Man with many faces

The ‘Shirat Hanoar’ exhibit showcases a new artistic side of renowned Israeli composer David Ma’aravi.

David Ma’aravi at the Nachman Gutman Museum (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Ma’aravi at the Nachman Gutman Museum
(photo credit: Courtesy)
David Ma’aravi is best known for his children’s songs; composed and made popular in the first half of the 20th century. Just as Israel was born and entering its childhood years, Ma’aravi’s music encompassed the innocence and nostalgia of the era. But his artistry does not end with music; he was also a skilled painter and one of the early graduates of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
Fans of Ma’aravi’s music will enjoy seeing a new side of the composer, and those who never knew his music will enjoy discovering the man whose art captures a time of childlike innocence and wonder in Israel. The exhibit, entitled “Shirat Hanoar” (Song of the Youth), is currently open at the Nacham Gutman Museum in Neve Tzedek. Nurit Tal Tenne, the exhibit’s curator, talks to The Jerusalem Post.
Can you talk about the discovery of David’s artwork? It was very interesting. Seven years ago, my husband and I went to his grandmother’s house in Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. In her living room, I saw beautiful drawings and paintings. I asked her who did them and she told me they were done by her father. But she is a very modest woman, and she didn’t want to speak so much about it. Later on, after I met her a few more times, and I was really a nudnikit [nuisance] about asking her.
So she finally agreed to go and get the rest of the artwork that was hidden away in the house. She had hidden David’s drawings and paintings from 100 to 50 years ago. I was thrilled to see them. I could tell that they were very old; mostly graphite and water colors.
There were depictions of Tel Aviv, Yeminite and Turkish people, and lots of children. She told me that she had given some of his work to the Israel Museum five years ago. So I contacted the Israel Museum and began to research David’s artwork and his life.
I discovered that he was also a very successful composer of children’s songs. His most famous song was “Shirat HaNoar.” It was a very popular song in Israel during the 1930s and ‘40s. It was a song about that time in Israel; the settlements, kibbutzim, aliya. It was about the independant spirit. In the exhibition, we not only display David’s art, but his songs will also be playing.
The title of the exhibit is ‘Shirat HaNoar.’ Why was that chosen? We chose this for the title because David Ma’aravi belongs to a certain period in Israel’s history and in the memory of Israelis. This was a time when we were first starting to build up our place here. The story of the exhibition is not only about the artwork, it’s also about the man and his family, and the unique relationship that he had with his own children and with every child he encountered. We’re trying to show who David Ma’aravi was; his humanity and how it reflected that of Israel as a whole.
It’s such a historical exhibition because the songs and the artwork belong to such a special period of time.
How do you think David’s artwork relates to his music? To answer that, I want to tell you about David’s life. He was born in Russia in 1896, and he came to Israel when he was about 14 years old. A few years later, he started attending Bezalel. He began to learn art, how to put colors together and create drawings and paintings.
In 1916, there was the first war. This affected the students of Bezalel because some of them went to the army, some went to go work in settlements. David went to the Galil.
After this, he ended up in Tel Aviv working as a shomer.
At this point in his life, he began to take an interest in music. He started to play piano and focused all of his energy on composing. Then, he began to teach and taught music and art for 25 years at various schools. I found many letters from his pupils over the years, and they all said how much they loved and adored him, and looked so forward to his classes. We will also feature some of these letters in the exhibit.
So I think the biggest connection between his music and his art is the love of children. The songs were all composed for children, and the artwork either features children, or has the innocence of children within it. This is the connection. He died in 1945 when he was only 49 years old. He even created art when he was in the hospital.
There are drawings of patients in hospital beds. Wherever he was, he found the beauty and inspiration to create.
But more than that, he always found the innocence.
In his short lifetime, he composed around 80 songs.
What was the process like for you of putting this exhibit together? It was exhausting! Most of all, it was a lot of research, and a lot of time spent finding all the different pieces and putting them together. I felt that when I got to the heart of who is this man, then I would get to the heart of his art as well. I believe that when you get to the heart of a person, then you can understand their aims and their passion.
It was a very long and interesting process, full of history and excitement. In total, it was about two years. I’m very proud of the end result. I realized that this is something that must be shown to others because it is a part of our history. We are very excited to show it and share it.
Out of the entire collection, do you have any pieces that really stand out to you? We did something very unique in the way we are showing the drawings. We took some drawings from David’s sketchbook on which both sides of the page had drawings, and we displayed them in glass in a way that you can see both sides at the same time. That is probably my favorite aspect of the exhibit.
The ‘Shirat Hanoar’ exhibit runs until April at the Nachan Gutman Museum. For more info visit