Artist and teacher: A serendipitous combination

Joy and fulfillment flourish from the special-needs classroom to the studio.

Ceramic figurines depict old hassidic figures as well as turn-of-the-century artisans (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ceramic figurines depict old hassidic figures as well as turn-of-the-century artisans
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rarely does a hobby become one’s primary occupation and source of income. When it does, however, it quickly blossoms.
The passion and energy such fortunate people invest in their craft might know no bounds, as their work illuminates not only their own lives, but also the lives of all around them.
Nahum Dimbort, 73, found serendipity entirely by accident. Born and raised in the old Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv, 18-year-old Dimbort enlisted in the IDF’s Nahal Infantry Brigade, where he served during the Six Day War and suffered significant injuries in active combat. After the war, he settled down for recovery back in the Tel Aviv area, teaching woodworking and basic crafts to schoolchildren for a living. Little did he know that this would ultimately turn out to be the first step in a lifelong romance with art.
At the local IDF center for wounded and disabled veterans, Dimbort joined a weekly art class to pick up a few new techniques he might then teach his own students, discovering instead an invaluable measure of peace for himself.
“These classes quickly became the light of my routine,” he recalls. “I found much tranquility in those precious few hours of isolation from the world and total concentration in the art; it was my weekly therapy.”
Soon he felt confident enough to introduce the new media of art he had been exposed to at the veterans’ center into his own classroom, incorporating ceramics, sculpting and other methods into his work in several schools around Tel Aviv. The most significant turn of events in his career as a teacher, however, was yet to come.
At 25 years of age, Dimbort was asked to teach special needs children in a Netanya school. Working with children suffering from Down syndrome, autism and other conditions quickly proved to be the greatest pedagogical challenge he had faced thus far in his life.
“I barely had any tools to teach these kids. I came with very little experience or understanding of what working with disabled kids really meant.”
Combining a peculiar mix of art techniques suited to the needs and capacities of these children, along with a great measure of creativity, patience and compassion, he sought to provide them with the same tranquility and peace of mind that he himself found in art. As modest and uncomplicated as the crafts he has been able to teach them may have been, he nonetheless managed to afford them immeasurable joy and a sense of fulfillment in their daily lives, a tremendous achievement in itself.
He recalls one significant moment that left an indelible mark on him, when years ago one of the girls in his workshop had a particularly difficult time sawing a piece of wood as she was asked to do. After an hour of ceaseless efforts to complete a task which to most kids her age would seem utterly trivial, the stubborn child finally managed to accomplish what had seemed to her like an impossible feat, and sliced the wooden board in half. Dimbort and the little heroine then ran through the school hallways hand-in-hand, proclaiming their victory: “We did it! We did it!” Over the years, Dimbort aimed increasingly to utilize his time with these children to provide them with practical tools for modest employment once outside the public school system. Turning to several local factories for simple jobs they might offer, Nahum guided his special needs students to make basic electrical gadgets and appliances, which they then sent to these factories. Gradually, through such projects, they acquired basic skills that allowed many of them to secure jobs later on.
Looking back over more than 35 years of dedicated work with special needs children, Dimbort recounts some difficult times along the way. Securing funding from the education system for the basic tools and equipment necessary to keep his classroom running for the benefit of his students was never a minor feat; bringing a ceramics oven into the workshop, for example, took months of bureaucratic struggles to accomplish. Ultimately, however, he recaps his decades as a teacher as the pinnacle of his working life.
Following his retirement a few years ago, Dimbort has remained in close touch with some of the schools he has worked for, providing close guidance to the younger teachers who have since replaced him. In the remainder of his time, he has found a long-awaited opportunity to focus on his art and grow in new directions.
His most recent works involve techniques in glass fusing, which enable him to produce more delicate pieces, most revolving around Jewish and traditional themes. A beautiful decorative glass plate he masterfully fashioned with the “seven species” now highlights the central wall of a Bnei Brak synagogue, while a close copy made of ceramics is showcased at another synagogue in Modi’in.
A long line of intricate ceramic figurines, featuring everything from old hassidic figures to a Jewish woman lighting Shabbat candles to beloved characters from Fiddler on the Roof has been one of Dimbort’s most fruitful artistic endeavors. Most recently, though, inspiration has led him to focus on a series of miniature ceramic turn-ofthe- century artisans – bringing tailors, butchers and carpenters from the old shtetl to life.
Surprisingly, throughout his working years he resolved to keep his art private, refraining from any opportunity to display it in an open gallery. It was only a little more than a year ago, at the encouragement of a close friend, that he agreed to open a public exhibition of select pieces for the first time, organized at the local IDF veteran center. The event was a resounding success, perhaps the first of many more to come.
In the meantime, Dimbort and his wife, Yafa, live their retirement to the fullest, investing their time and energies into the family they built together. For Nahum in particular, what started out as a modest hobby more than four decades ago, and later became his full-time occupation and educational calling, is now the ultimate outlet for his significant creative energies.
With each new piece coming into fruition in his workshop, a whole new horizon of techniques and ideas unfolds before him. Truly, the road an artist treads is utterly infinite.