Grapevine: Feel the fabric

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

ANJAN SHAKYA, the ambassador of Nepal, with Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
ANJAN SHAKYA, the ambassador of Nepal, with Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A piece of cloth is more than just a length of fabric. It’s more than texture or color or weave or knit.
Textiles are at the heart of the touring exhibition now showing concurrently at the Negev Museum of Art on Beersheba’s Ha’atzmaut Street, and the Trumpeldor Gallery in the Old City of Beersheba. The Trumpeldor Gallery operates under the auspices of the arts department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The purpose of the exhibition is to raise a number of questions about what inherent meanings and messages hide in fabrics. What is their cultural significance? How can they be interpreted? What can fabrics tell us about their origins, meanings and social roles? Which traditional textile techniques have artists appropriated, abstracted, relocated and brought back to life?
In the world of textiles, art often encounters handicraft; traditions of yesteryear connect with the contemporary concepts of the present day; and local areas of expertise intersect with global relationships. The exhibition highlights the multiple complex ways in which the participating artists work with textiles. They link personal and aesthetic narratives with the social and economic configuration of a globalized world.
In 1965, Bauhaus artist Anni Albers described “the event of a thread” as something multi-linear, without beginning or end. More broadly, it signifies constant scope to rethink relations and to restructure connections and contexts.
For the exhibition, artist Judith Raum has developed The Bauhaus Space, an installation dedicated to the Bauhaus weaving workshop. Rewoven fabrics and historic materials can be discovered in a specially designed display that unfolds its extraordinary success story in six chapters.
In every part of the world, evidence can be found of the complex integration of textiles into the history of culture and industry. In cooperation with local artists and curators, the main body of the current exhibition will be complemented by artworks, performances or actions that will create a new narrative. The new narrative will be adapted to the specific context of each location, in turn linking the exhibition to artists who are active in different countries and to the unique textures of each locale.
The five artists included in the traveling exhibition are Buthina Abu Milhem, Gili Avissar, Katya Oicherman, Varda Getzow and Ilana Ravek, whose work with fabrics and threads occupies a central place and to a great extent characterizes their art: either weaving and embroidery, using traditional methods, or making various uses of fabrics that are gathered and joined together to create a new object.
The local aspect is apparent in the treatment of landscape, history and the personal stories of the artists. The stories center on experiences of history’s painful memories, immigration, and issues of national and gender identity, as well as the desire to preserve and memorialize a lost cultural legacy. The intersections between past and present, the parts and the whole, and textile traditions and contemporary art break through the customary boundaries between craft and art, and enhance the personal, familial story with a universal dimension.
The use of fabrics, carpets and threads, as well as sewing, weaving, knitting and embroidery techniques, has been gaining a significant standing in contemporary Israeli art, and several important exhibitions have highlighted this phenomenon, which is shattering gender boundaries and distinctions between art and design.
In the current, reduced exhibition, only a small selection of artists whose work fits in with the exhibition’s concept have been included. Works by two Israeli artists, Noa Eshkol and Eran Schaerf, were part of the original traveling exhibition. Noa Eshkol, well-known as an Israeli choreographer, also created wall hangings. Israeli-born Schaerf has contributed a new installation.
When the New Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts opened in Jerusalem in 1935, it was in the Bauhaus spirit of the great German school. Several years later, Julia Keiner established the weaving department, where students studied and created under the inspiration of the ideas and styles developed at the Bauhaus weaving workshop.
■ TIMING IS interesting and often important. On Friday of last week, following publication of the unofficial results of Israel’s elections, the Russian Embassy in its weekly newsletter sent part of the transcript of the most recent meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin: “It is largely due to your efforts that our relations have acquired a new quality in both security and military operation issues. We all know how important this is, especially considering the persisting threat from international terrorists. I have just been to one of Russia’s republics in the North Caucasus – Daghestan. Twenty years ago it faced very dramatic events linked with the invasion of international terrorist groups. So, in Russia we all know very well what terrorism is about, and people in Israel also have firsthand knowledge.
“I know that you have just had a fairly detailed discussion with the top executives of the Defense Ministry and with Russia’s defense minister. We will now discuss everything that concerns this area.
“And of course, we are united by a common approach to the challenges of the past, those of World War II. The Jewish nation suffered probably more than any other with the exception of Russia – we lost 25 million. These are serious losses.
“The president of Israel invited me to come to Israel at the beginning of next year in connection with these events, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Holocaust Remembrance Day. Please tell Mr. President that I will come to Israel with great pleasure. If possible, we can also unveil a memorial for the victims of the siege of Leningrad that you told me about when you also invited me to this event.
“Mr. Prime Minister, I know that your country is on the eve of major domestic political events, the elections to Knesset on September 17. I believe that it is common knowledge that over 1.5 million former Soviet citizens live in Israel. We have always considered them our people, our compatriots. Naturally, we are not indifferent as regards future Israeli MPs – let me be straight about this. We are hoping they will be responsible politicians that will certainly maintain all recent achievements in bilateral relations and will move forward with us in developing Russian-Israeli ties.”
Benjamin Netanyahu: “I appreciate your words that you respect the security of the State of Israel. This fact is revealed in all of our meetings, and I saw this again at our meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
“Coordination between our militaries is always very important, but especially important now, because in the past month we have seen a sharp increase in Iran’s attempt to use the territory of Syria to attack us and to deploy missiles that threaten us. We are not prepared to simply take this threat, and so we have to act. In this situation, our dialogue is even more important, and I believe that we will discuss this at our meeting as well.
“If I am correct, this is our 13th meeting in the last few years, and at these meetings we have managed to make progress on many important issues in areas like security, the economy, tourism and agriculture, to name a few.”
Putin who has managed to be either president or prime minister of Russia since 2000, has a certain longevity brinkmanship over Netanyahu in the holding of high office, and at this time Netanyahu would certainly love to know his secret.
Putin’s projected visit to Israel will immediately be followed by the M.ART Festival of Contemporary Russian Culture, which will be held in Tel Aviv from February 20 to March 7, with a multidisciplinary range of performances at the Habimah Theater, the Suzanne Dellal Center, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Tel Aviv Music Conservatorium, and the Tel Aviv Opera House. The local Russian community, whose members are great patrons of the arts, will be first in line to buy tickets. Anyone who frequents concerts at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv can vouch for the fact that the language most frequently heard before and after concerts and during intermission is Russian.
■ DUE TO the current political situation, there was no government minister joining in the celebrations hosted by Dr. Anjan Shakya, the ambassador of Nepal, to mark her country’s national day and the fourth anniversary of its revised constitution. Instead of a minister, the government was represented by Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry. There is a certain irony in the fact that in recent weeks, the ministry, whose relevance was systematically eroded by the outgoing government and its immediate predecessors, has been the government’s saving grace on the diplomatic front.
Though smaller in size than most receptions of its kind, the Nepalese reception was among the most colorful, in that many of the guests wore the eye-catching traditional costumes of the countries they represent. In fact, at one stage, the gathering at Herods hotel in Tel Aviv looked like an Asian convention, with only a smattering of non-Asians in the room.
Shakya, who is never seen in Western attire, has a magnificent collection of saris, but really outdid herself on this occasion with a glorious sari in a strikingly deep shade of persimmon with gold and green trim, with a matching jeweled bag and jeweled sandals.
There are many ways in which to drape a sari, but there seems to be a slight difference between the way it is done in the more familiar India and the way it is done in Nepal. Either way, the effect is graceful and feminine, although in some Asian countries, men also wear saris but don’t drape them in the same way as women do.
Shakya, who likes to entertain, but who has had a slight problem with Jewish guests who observe the dietary laws, was happy to report that in conjunction with the hotel’s chefs, the buffet would comprise traditional Nepalese cuisine which on this occasion was kosher. It was also very spicy and delicious, and guests who had already filled their plates more than once kept returning to the buffet for more.
In terms of history of relations between Israel and Nepal, Shakya and Cohen were more or less on the same page in their respective speeches, noting that Nepal was one of the first countries in South Asia to establish relations, in June 1960. At the time, this was a courageous decision taken by prime minister Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, the first elected prime minister of Nepal, following his meeting with David Ben-Gurion, the founding prime minister of Israel.
In March 1961, Israel opened its embassy in Kathmandu. Nepal’s ambassador to Israel was also accredited to Egypt and for many years was resident in Cairo. Nepal opened an honorary consulate-general in Israel in 1993, and an embassy in 2007.
Shakya and Cohen spoke of exchange visits and tourism, with Cohen emphasizing the work of Mashav (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation), which is under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry and has trained many Nepalese students in agriculture, medicine, health, sanitation, water management and more.
Shakya, who is busy planning a series of events to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Nepal and Israel, is very proud of the fact that Nepal has an outstanding record of gender equality. In all areas of government, if a man holds the top position, his deputy must be a woman and vice versa. Although gender equality is not fully reflected in parliament, women do hold 32.7% of the seats.
■ JUST AS today’s and tomorrow’s Germans perhaps unfairly carry the burden of responsibility for Nazi atrocities, they also carry the burden of responsibility for the Munich massacre, in which 11 members of the Israel Olympic team were murdered by members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
That explains why German Ambassador Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer will participate in the memorial services organized by the Olympic Committee of Israel in memory of wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, weightlifters Yossef Romano, David Berger and Ze’ev Friedman, weightlifting judge Yaakov Springer, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, wrestling referee Yossef Gutfreund, shooting coach Kehat Shorr, fencing coach Andre Spitzer, and track coach Amitzur Shapir.
The services will take place at the grave sites of the Olympians on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the Herzliya Cemetery, and 5:30 p.m. at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in Tel Aviv, followed by a gathering at the Hall of the Eleven in Tel Aviv. The only murder victim not buried in Israel is Berger, who was a dual national and is buried in Cleveland, Ohio.
For more than 20 years, there was a cover-up of German incompetence in ensuring security and in tracking down the perpetrators of the crime. Investigative reporting by Der Spiegel brought this to public attention in 2012.
In addition to members of the families and of the Israel Olympic Committee, the services will be attended by Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who may be making one of her last official appearances in this role.
■ ARGUABLY, THE program most frequently rebroadcast on radio and television is Yossi Alfi’s Storytelling Festival, which since 1993 has been held annually during the intermediate days of Sukkot at the Givatayim Theater.
Iraqi-born Alfi, one of 10 siblings, who as a child came to Israel with his grandmother, is a prolific storyteller himself, and conducts workshops in storytelling because he believes that everyone has a story, but not everyone knows how to tell it. He is also an actor, director, writer and poet and is fluent in several languages. He is familiar with the cultures of several immigrant populations, which is a strong contributing factor to the success of his programs. Among Alfi’s characteristics is a refusal to give in to illness, and he kept working as usual during a triumphant battle with prostate cancer.
The essence of his storytelling programs is to bring together groups of people from a certain national, cultural or professional background, and have each of them tell a story based on the theme, and often involving themselves. One of his favorite participants used to be the late former president Yitzhak Navon, whom Alfi invited back year after year because Navon was a superb raconteur who can still be heard on some of the rebroadcasts of the program.
One of the recent rebroadcasts featured well-known physicians who were unanimous in saying that with all the advances in medical technology, nothing replaces the traditional family doctor who knows the patient’s condition, looks him in the eye, is sympathetic to the patient’s fears and curiosity, and, in the case of surgery, accompanies the patient to the operating theater, holding his or her hand all the way.
They were also unanimous in saying that one of the evils of modern technology is that it also gives access to inaccurate information. Instead of the doctor diagnosing the patient, the patient googles his or her symptoms and self-diagnoses, often wrongly, based on false information, then comes to the doctor, demanding to be treated for X, Y or Z, when in actual fact the patient does not suffer from any of these diseases, but from something completely different.
This year the Storytelling Festival will take place from October 10 to 21 and, in the multitude of themes and personalities, will include Israel’s space explorers, such as Kfir Damari, the founder of Space IL, which attempted to land a spacecraft on the moon; Mossad expert Ronen Bergman; songs and stories in and about Ladino; stories of immigrants and immigration; veteran stars of Yiddish theater Yaakov Bodo and Monica Vardimon, as well as stories involving politics, psychology, journalism, judges, the underworld and more.
Alfi can never escape his Iraqi roots, and introduces something related to Iraq at every opportunity. He’s going to bring on a group of people who remember when a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian sang a universal Iraqi prayer together on a stage in Baghdad, and will attempt to have a reenactment of that harmonious, peaceful and hopeful event.
The Coliseum in Kikar Atarim on Tel Aviv’s beachfront was until recently the Pussycat Club, a strip joint largely populated by pimps, prostitutes and their clientele. In an effort to reduce human trafficking, the Tel Aviv Municipality two years ago canceled the business license of the Pussycat Club, but even so, it continued to operate. It was eventually closed down, and the property was acquired by JTLV, a real estate group that operates in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and has a policy of giving back to the community.
Yakir Segev, a JTLV associate, with an impressive record for initiating social change, decided to turn the former strip club into a social hub to be used for projects empowering women and youth at risk by providing a variety of training and occupational programs for them; hosting diverse cultural events; teaching soldiers who have completed their mandatory army service how to promote Israel’s image in the world before they go on their post-army trips abroad; and also organizing a place of prayer for those who need it.
Segev plans to gradually expand the activities to include a much broader range of initiatives designed to strengthen and advance Israeli society and to give hope to many who previously lived a hopeless existence.
■ AT THIS time of year, many charitable organizations are scrambling to make up or collect food packages to ensure that the needy can enjoy a proper holiday meal. Other organizations are on the phone and the computer arranging invitations to festival meals for senior citizens and others who may live alone and have not been invited by anyone.
One of the better known organizations that provide food for the needy is Leket, which, in addition to collecting food from restaurants and catering establishments for distribution to the poor, also has many volunteers to help it harvest food in the fields. There have been several diplomats among the harvesters, and some have even brought their children, not just to enjoy a day of fun but to learn at an early age what it means to take responsibility for the welfare of the less fortunate.
This week Leket hosted Italian Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti and first counselor at the Italian Embassy Gianmarco Macchia, as well as Marie Danon, wife of French Ambassador Eric Danon. The diplomats met their hosts at the Leket Israel logistics center in Ra’anana. The purpose of the event was to mark the first anniversary of the passing of the Food Donation Act, which removes criminal and civil liability for anyone along the food donation supply chain.
As one of the partners in the fight against food waste, Joseph Gitler, founder and chairman of Leket Israel, discussed the various ways in which countries fight food waste. He took his visitors on a tour of the center, and spoke about the complex logistics involved in food rescue. “Israel is not the only country dealing with the issue of excess food, and it’s important to find allies in our food rescue mission,” said Gitler, noting that “Italy and France have both implemented regulations to encourage food donation.”
■ THAT HE didn’t vote Likud in the recent elections does not mean that former Likud minister and former MK Bennie Begin has retired from public life. These days he’s a senior research fellow at MEMRI – the Middle East Media Research Institute. On Wednesday night he will join fellow researcher Michael Davis and MEMRI founder Yigal Carmon at Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi in Jerusalem to discuss the revival of antisemitism in the United States, both in terms of incidents and ideology.
■ ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations have teamed up with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and are doing so again this coming Thursday at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem to discuss “Israeli Diplomacy in the age of Ascendant Authoritarianism.”
The keynote address will be delivered by Prof. Yehuda Bauer, professor emeritus of history and Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and academic adviser to Yad Vashem. The 93-year-old Bauer remains a riveting orator with a sharp mind, an excellent memory and a delightfully caustic sense of humor. The response will be given by Dore Gold, president of the Center for Public Affairs, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to the United Nations. A question and answer session and panel discussion will follow.
The organizers are great believers in encouraging audiences to ask pertinent questions (as distinct from making long-winded statements), because they believe that questions often open the door to new schools of thought.