Bambi's messiah

To celebrate its seventh anniversary, next week 'Eretz Aheret' will be opening a new exhibit at Beit Avi Chai, its main sponsor.

magazines 88 (photo credit: )
magazines 88
(photo credit: )
The bi-monthly magazine Eretz Aheret (Another Country) is entering its eighth year. Right from the beginning, it has occupied a very special place in Israeli society and sometimes it seems as if it has always been around. For thousands of subscribers and many more readers, it has become a must-read. To celebrate its seventh anniversary, next week Eretz Aheret will be opening a new exhibit at Beit Avi Chai, its main sponsor. The exhibit will feature a collection of photos that have at some point appeared in the magazine's 42 issues. Magazine founder and editor-in-chief Bambi (Beatrice) Sheleg, 50, was born in Chile and made aliya in 1970. She graduated from the Hebrew University with a degree in Jewish history and English literature and studied Jewish thought at the Shalom Hartman Institute. She began her journalistic career as a writer for Nekuda, a monthly magazine affiliated with the settler movement. Later, she edited the prestigious Otiot youth magazine, between 1987-1997. After prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, Sheleg decided to establish a forum that would transcend ideological boundaries. Believing that only open dialogue could heal the fracture in Israeli society, she created the non-profit organization that produces Eretz Aheret. Sheleg, a member of the Yad Vashem council, is married to Haaretz journalist Yair Sheleg and is a mother of three. She spoke with In Jerusalem about the exhibit, the meaning behind its title "The Messiah Hasn't Come" and the magazine's impact on our society. Why did you choose a photo exhibit to mark the magazine's seventh anniversary? I think it's a good idea since our magazine has a strong visual aspect with very high standards. It is not merely the use of pictures, the visual aspect of Eretz Aheret is also an important part of our message. We are not an academic publication, despite the very high level of discourse, and we do not wish to limit ourselves to the written word. The exhibit's title "The Messiah Hasn't Come" was also the title of the magazine's second issue. Why use it twice? Because it is true; the messiah has not yet come - neither the messiah of the Left nor the messiah of the Right and the religious. No one has succeeded in bringing him and nobody holds any redemption or message of salvation anymore. That promise hasn't been fulfilled and that is meaningful. What kind of messiah are you waiting for? We are a Zionist magazine and Zionism, in my opinion, is also a messianic movement. But Zionism has also always been connected to some kind of reality. That was the greatness of the founders of Zionism and for that reason the leaders of the historic Mapai managed to establish a connection between a utopia and a reality on the ground. They were always aware of the need to be "realistic." Today, I'm afraid we have lost this connection a bit. I would say that the great failures we are witnessing today in our society are the result of the fact that so many of us are no longer careful to dream while keeping a foot in reality. Is there one particular issue of Eretz Aheret that you are proud of? I can say that I feel a lot of pride in all the issues. Really, each one is the result of such dedication and loving work from the entire staff that I find it difficult to highlight one issue. But perhaps the one we dedicated to the privatization of prisons in Israel was the most important because it raised a debate that continues to this day. What about an issue of the magazine with which you were disappointed? None so far. But the July 2006 issue "Everything Is Measured" didn't get the attention it deserved because it came out within the first two weeks of the Second Lebanon war. But I haven't had any doubts regarding its importance. Most of the prestigious publications are not published in Jerusalem, but Eretz Aheret was conceived, is created and realized here. Beyond the fact that you are a resident of this city, can you imagine the magazine being created and published in Tel Aviv? It [the magazine] happened here [in Jerusalem]. It was born out of my personal need to confront my education and my beliefs, whatever is happening around me. We do have many non-locals on our editorial staff, but I think there is something to your question. Jerusalem means something, it allows a very special meeting with such a rich and varied society - beyond all the difficulties - so yes, it had to be here. If you had to highlight an encouraging development in Israeli society, what would it be? I think the doubt that each one of us feels today is a blessed process, really. And it is an indication of maturity, this is not an insignificant fact. I think that we are a much better society than we think, or than it appears from the outside. We are also a much more immune society than we know. I always ask people: How many extraordinary, great people do you know or meet around you? The answer shows that there are much more extraordinary and great people among us than we think or realize. For me, Israel is a coalition of fantasies. And we do not have elsewhere to go or to retreat, so as we mature, and this is crucial, we also learn to respect the boundaries of the other, which I believe includes the Arab sector. So what is the purpose of Eretz Aheret? For me, Israeli society is a project against extremism and polarization. Since we are all here to stay, and no one is going elsewhere, we have to get along with each other. Eretz Aheret is one of the expressions of [this goal]. It's a great mission: to rehabilitate the Jewish people, to confront our multicultural society, though we are one people. It's an immense challenge. The exhibition is showing from February 7-March 7 at Beit Avi Chai, 44 King George Avenue, Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tel.: 621-5300.