The cloud formations and winter sky of the Mount Hebron area are “a gift from Heaven” according to photographer Oded Ben-Moshe.In his artistic photograph, Harachim (Cracks), on display in the Pa’amei Ruah (“The Beat of the Spirit”) exhibition at the President’s Residence, the rays of the sun reach out and touch the trees on the field blanketed in snow, under a sky layered/dotted with puffs of clouds – gradually turning from gray to white.Ben-Moshe, a commercial, event and artistic photographer, says, “I was driving a few years ago near my home in Carmel and the road was blocked due to the snow. Looking around, I noticed the sun and clouds and then took the photo.”The Pa’amei Ruah exhibition, presenting the works of six artists from the Mount Hebron Regional Council, is on display in the President’s Residence for a six-month period that kicked off last month. In the opening ceremony, the artists, from the communities of Ma’on, Carmel, Beit Yatir, Otniel and nearby Kiryat Arba, presented their art to President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama. They shared their experiences of living in the area, and the region’s inspiration for their creativity.Rivlin welcomed the artists: “It is a pleasure to host you as artists, and as those who create their art in a place with such historical significance to our nation throughout the generations.”
Mount Hebron’s roots date back to biblical times, with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah walking its paths and hills. King David (before he became king in Hebron) hid in the area from King Saul. Names of some of the communities reflect biblical personalities and places: Otniel, Avigail, Shim’a, Carmel and Maon. At the opening ceremony, regional council head Yochai Damari remarked, “We have come to the President’s Residence for the Pa’amei Ruah exhibition of Mount Hebron artists, marking 35 years of settlement in Hebron and 50 years since the liberation of Judea and Samaria. The exhibition expresses the spirit of Mount Hebron as well as the motivation behind the building of Mount Hebron. I thank the president and his wife for opening their hearts and home to us.”“The exhibition is a chance to express another aspect of the Mount Hebron Regional Council,” says curator Nurit Gazit, who founded and heads the Meitarim Art Center.“Unfortunately, headlines about Mount Hebron usually concern the pain and loss caused by terrorism throughout the years. The works of art in this exhibition, representative of other artists in the region, show a different face of Mount Hebron – one of aesthetics and beauty. It shows the spirit of the people here, who are focused not on survival only, but also on creativity.”Gazit, a resident of Otniel, a community that lost two residents to terrorists in 2016 – Dafna Meir and Michael (Mickey) Mark – founded the Meitarim Art Center in 2010 as a platform to exhibit the work of local artists as well as visiting artists.“This has been my dream for a long time, and finally after years of effort, I was offered a venue following the move of the offices of the Regional Council to new quarters in the Meitarim industrial zone. The Meitarim Art Center has a permanent exhibition of painting on large canvases, and ceramics and glass creations. Changing exhibitions display work of artists from all over the country.”Gazit is planning an exhibition (to open in the summer) called Negi’ot” (Touches), which will display works connected to pain and loss. Artists who are interested can submit their work until March 28.The exhibition will be dedicated to the memory of Michael Mark, a rabbi shot by a terrorist last summer while driving.The President’s Residence exhibition, with some 25 paintings and photographs on display in the meeting room, is the 16th exhibition of the Meitarim Art Center. Although not open to the public, many visitors who hold meetings at the President’s Residence will see the art. The paintings and photographs include landscapes, still life and reflections on the Jewish spirit. Meitarim is located near the junction of two main roads; the closest city is Beersheba. The Mount Hebron Regional Council stretches from Beersheba in the south to Kiryat Gat in the north, and is home to about 9,000 residents in some 20 communities – religious, non-religious and mixed. Its vistas include expanses of desert and mountains as well as green from the many vineyards in the area. In the south is the Yatir Forest, the world’s largest man-planted forest – with four million trees covering an expanse of 30,000 hectares.“Tourism is developing here and flourishes particularly during four annual festivals,” says Shmaaya Asoulin, the spokesman of Mount Hebron Regional Council.
“The Cherry Picking Festival in the spring in the Yatir Forest attracts thousands of Israelis, and focuses on the cherry crops of the communities of Carmel, Ma’on and Yatir.” Other festivals are held on Succot, Hanukka and Passover. The Sussiya archeological site reveals Jewish life in the fourth to ninth centuries, including a synagogue.Nurit Gazit, originally from Jerusalem, studied education and realized as a young mother that art was her calling. It is in her blood: a painting by her paternal great-grandfather, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Haim Zweig, a ritual slaughterer and artist, is on display in the Israel Museum’s Judaica department.“My great-grandfather drew paintings with Jewish themes, such as the mizrachs that are positioned on walls facing east toward Jerusalem. The painting in the Israel Museum has elements of the Temple and the 12 tribes.”As a young mother, she was looking at a book of photographs of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. She had never previously sketched, but although not a follower of Lubavitch, picked up pencil and paper, proceeding to draw his profile. The results amazed her, and from then on she was inspired to pursue her hidden talents. Gazit also writes poetry.Artists in the Mount Hebron Regional Council’s communities open up their studios to visitors. Ruth Ventura, whose paintings are exhibited at the President’s Residence, has a studio in Maon where she hosts visitors. She developed the method of tziyur p’nimi (which she describes as internal painting), based on intuitive painting, and teaches women in Jerusalem and Ramat Gan – often playing music in the background and reading quotes from the sources and rabbis for inspiration. The window frame in Ventura’s living room forms a triptych around the view of the scenic hills bordering the desert. Another wall has a painting that continues the view outside.Influenced by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, and Israeli psychiatrist Dr. Pinki Feinstein, Ventura says, “Usually art is taught by mastering techniques and then the artist finds his or her inner self. From Dr. Feinstein, I learned that the ability to draw and to release creativity are not necessarily from studying technique or rules of art.”The artists of Mount Hebron don’t have to look far for inspiration. As Oded Ben-Moshe notes, “I wait for the special cloud formations and sky each and every winter.”The Meitarim Art Center’s current exhibition is called Shamayim (“sky”), with paintings and photographs of the sky.About the Meitarim Art Center: www.nuritgazit.co.il/ To coordinate visits to the exhibition: Nuritg13@gmail.com