Aliya stories: Branching out in Israel

An artist specializing in fashioning sculptures from parts of palm trees takes root quickly after making aliya.

Gladys Young (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Gladys Young
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
At 85, Gladys Young was the oldest new immigrant on her Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight last August, but that wasn’t her only distinction.She may well have been the only immigrant in history who packed palm trees in her shipment. This seems to be a strange item to bring along, especially given that palm trees are abundant both in Florida, where she lived for three years before making aliya, and in the land of her destination.
For the past 15 years, Young has directed her artistic attentions to fashioning sculptures from the various parts of palms. She calls it “Branch Out by Gladys Young.’
“I have about 60 finished pieces plus a lot of working material. I brought much of my material with me, fearing I would not be able to find what I need in Israel,” she explains. “I put it all in a lift, wrapped and boxed. After being in Israel several months, I have begun to use parts of Israeli palm trees as well.”
Young says she has fallen in love with this unusual genre. “I work with palmtree branches primarily, but the palm has so many aspects to it that I can use many parts. I see something in every little piece of tree.”
Some of her sculptures portray biblical characters, including Joseph, Moses, Samson, Delilah and David. Some are styled to evoke typical works of well-known artists, such as the long necks seen in the paintings of Amedeo Modigliani. She has started creating bird figures as well.
“I recently started using parts of the tree that look like fabric. I was even able to create a bridal gown. Everyone who visits my gallery has to go over and touch it to see that it’s not real fabric,” says Young.
Her gallery and studio are located in a house in Moshav Aminadav, just outside of Jerusalem near Ein Kerem. She lives close to her studio, next door to one of her daughters, Rivi Brussel, who found this perfect setup for her.
“I’m constantly working in my studio so it’s very convenient,” says Young.
When she first arrived, she went to live at Protea Hills, a retirement community in Shoresh. She made friends quickly and enjoyed the setting. On her first day there, Young ran into someone she had known as a child in Brooklyn, and another woman who came from Elizabeth, New Jersey, where she had lived for many years.
However, she was not able to find a studio in the vicinity that fit her needs. So after three months, she relocated about 23 kilometers southeast to Aminadav. Her new friends at Protea Hills threw her a going-away party.
“I had to move on to where I could express my passion in my art,” she explains.
Young was born Brownsville, Brooklyn, and lived there until her marriage in 1956. She raised her daughters in Elizabeth and many years later moved first to Oceanside, New York, then to Lakewood, New Jersey, and finally to Hollywood, Florida.
“My eldest daughter and her husband wanted to come to Israel immediately after getting married and have been here for over 30 years,” she relates.
“My younger daughter made aliya about two years ago with her husband; some of her children were already here. I was traveling back and forth once or twice a year and it was getting difficult, so within a few months I decided to come with Nefesh B’Nefesh. It was a very fast decision.”
Young says she has been an artist for a good part of her life, mainly sculpting with materials such as wood, clay and stone such as pink alabaster.
She studied under noted American sculptor Chaim Gross and earned a bachelor of art degree at Kean College in New Jersey.
“I once sent one of my pieces, The Schoolmarm, to [former US first lady] Laura Bush. She wrote me that she loved the piece but wanted me to donate it to a local school in her name. I did that in Florida.”
A picture of The Schoolmarm and the thank-you notes from Laura Bush and from the head of Brauser Maimonides Academy are proudly displayed in her studio in Israel.
Young has three grandchildren in the United States – in New York, New Jersey and Florida – but most of her family lives in Israel.
“The transition was difficult because I had a nice place in Hollywood and it was comfortable, but I don’t look back at the luxury I left; it doesn’t matter. I’m living where I’m working and it’s really good for me. My favorite part is having my family nearby and being able to see my great-grandchildren,” she says.
“I speak very little Hebrew, so that’s difficult, but I am not the kind to get upset if something doesn’t fall into place. I’m comfortable living next door to my daughter, and overall it’s a very positive experience for me.”
Looking back at the past six months, Young feels she has accomplished a lot. The next step is creating a social circle.
“I am a very social person and I like to meet people, so when I get everything in place I’ll get out there,” she pledges.