A brief Culture Connection, to make up for the “limited edition” of our last one! (The publishers of the Rosner-Fuchs book asked us to postpone our piece until after their English-language version came out, and we happily obliged.)
Some thirteen years ago I was first introduced to a “revolutionary photographer” called Yoram Amir. This tall, scruffy-looking man with magical eyes took me on a walk through Jerusalem, and changed the way I see cities forever.
Yoram Amir, showing us some of his wedding work…
While working as a wedding photographer, he’d started to find it more and more difficult to photograph a couple against a back-drop that hadn’t been spoiled by the latest architectural monstrosity of Jerusalem’s real estate boom. So many beautiful, exotic stone buildings had been spoiled either by the high-rise that loomed beside it, or by a second or third storey that had been squashed on top.
“You see the arched windows here on the ground floor? Now look to the third storey. They built an extension. You see the windows there? Boxes. Cut and paste. Cheap stone. You see?”
And suddenly I did. From then on I was unable to walk around the ancient beauty of Jerusalem’s houses and buildings without also noticing where it had been ignored, or spoiled. As Amir once talked of the wedding liturgy he would hear while working as a wedding photographer: “At night I hear If I should forget thee Jerusalem… and in the morning it’s I’ve forgotten thee…”
Yoram would take Makom groups on tours around Jerusalem, bringing us inside his heart and his eyes. “Jerusalem is a beautiful city. A city that was built slowly. Now we build too fast. For centuries people came and gave the beautiful city some beautiful jewels – its buildings. If we love Jerusalem, I think we should give it many many jewels…”
And as he guided people to see the devaluation and destruction of these architectural “jewels”, he also took to rescuing their “precious stones”: Their windows and window-frames. Over a period of a few decades he had gathered thousands of unique window-frames.
And then he fell sick.
Friends, fellow-artists Itamar Faluja and Lili Peleg, Jerusalemite activists, and the amazing Mekudeshet Festival, came together with him to help realize a dream he would not live to see: The Summer Palace of Window Stories. Made of over 500 of Yoram’s rescued windows, this palace stands in the center of busy Jerusalem. A monument to a man’s love for this ancient city, an installation of peace and sanctity surrounded by the honking of car-horns and the dazzle of street lights, this palace is open to everyone throughout this summer.
Rather than share more of my inadequate photos snapped from my cell phone, I really encourage you to click on this link to an article in Haaretz. Even if you don’t read Hebrew, the images photographed by Olivia Fitoussi speak far beyond page and screen.
A few days ago I spent an evening sitting in this miraculous palace, a modern fable of Jerusalem or a secular temple. All these windows that were defeated by “progress” are united in gentle defiance, brought together by their savior the late Yoram Amir and his talented and generous collaborators. The palace hints at the ways in which humanity can spoil a city, and at the same time quietly glistens with the ways in which humanity can sanctify a city too.
The Hebrew title for the piece is חלונות מתגשמים – Chalonot Mitgashmim. It’s a play on the Hebrew for “Dreams Come True” – Chalomot Mitgashmim – חלומות מתגשמים. Instead of dreams coming true, becoming real, it is the windows – chalonot – חלונות that are made flesh.
When wandering Jerusalem with the sight Yoram Amir had gifted me, I would always see the harsh juxtaposition between ancient stone homes and hard new apartment blocks as a painful affront. Chalonot Mitgashmim offers, if anything, an even more dramatic contrast between the square angled apartment blocks and the arching nostalgic transparency of the palace’s windows. Only this time, here, this summer, this brand new combination of ancient windows completely overpowers its harsh urban surroundings with light, beauty, and peace.
Photo by Anat Naveh, grabbed from Google Maps
If you can get to Israel before the end of the festival – go to Gan haSuss! And if you can’t, send a friend there with a zoom connection and get them to take you on a virtual tour…
Trying to understand the ins and outs of the Israeli election? Or just want to know what the differences are between the leading candidates? Check out this video and written piece!
by Robbie Gringras
The political awakening of students throughout the land following the Parkland shooting, has surprised and inspired many. Whether or not the subject is on their curriculum, every Jewish educator knows that Gun Control is a topic that their students are interested in addressing. As such, we have an opportunity. Our students are motivated, excited, engaged!
What contribution might educators make at this time?
I would suggest that one contribution – among many others – might be to equip our students to fight their good fight without them losing sight of the shared humanity and shared citizenship of their opponents. How can they maintain their righteous passion and drive, and at the same time hold on to a sense – despite it all – of a United States of America? How can our classrooms provide space for disagreement and struggle, yet make sure that opposition does not turn into hatred?
We would suggest that the Gun Control debate revolves around four fundamental questions that our students would benefit from exploring:
How do we stay safe?
What makes us American?
How can we be free?
How do we relate to our territory?
Our students who are demonstrating and campaigning for gun control probably do not need to even check their answers to these questions. Even without asking we might assume that it is clear to them that safety will come from gun control laws applied more consistently and broadly than ever before. They probably know that being American is about liberty and tolerance, and not about being the shame of the world due to its gun violence. They presumably wish to be free to go to school without armed guards (or teachers), and they know that only the US has such a crazy attitude to guns, and that those who do not live on the coasts think totally differently about this and that they are wrong.
So far so unsurprising. Where these four questions come in useful is in enabling the liberal learner to understand the “other side”. The “other side” of this gun debate would argue that one is safe from bad guys and from bad governments when one owns a gun of one’s own – the more powerful the better. They might argue that the Constitution is the sacred heart of what makes us American, all amendments included. Freedom for them would be meaningless if the State took away their right to armed self-defence, and the right to defend one’s territory – especially one’s home.
In assessing these two sets of answers (and of course there are many other possible combinations of answers), the student may emerge with two conclusions. First, “I totally disagree with them. They are totally wrong, and I shall do all I can to achieve what I believe,” but also: “I understand that we both share four fundamental concerns. This is what binds us. Our different attitudes to these shared concerns are what make us opponents in our shared endeavor to get better answers to these fundamental questions.” The latter conclusion can and should live together with the first.
Funnily enough, if you end up managing to draw your students into this conversation on gun control through these four questions, you might find your class is delightfully prepped to talk about Israel, too!
For the penultimate line of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, contains four words that map very neatly on to these four questions your students will have explored: To Be (safety) a People (national identity) Free In Our Land (territory) – Lihiyot Am Chofshi B’Artzenu – להיות עם חפשי בארצנו. Pretty much every aspect of Israel you might explore with your students are about the same four fundamental concerns – for safety, collective identity, freedom, and land – expressed through these same four questions.
For more about these Four Questions in Israel Education, take a look at Makom’s work with 4HQ.
Three thoughts about the way in which the compromise agreement over mixed-prayer at the Kotel was “frozen” by Prime Minister Netanyahu, thus infuriating the Jewish world:
For all its pain, the Kotel furore is good for Israel Education. It finally puts paid to the idea that one can teach Israel without touching on the politics that animate this place. No longer can Israel engagers maintain that we can engage with Israel as an embodiment of our religious convictions, without addressing the politics that drive this particular embodiment. Educators’ celebration of “shared values” must now incorporate issues where our values are not necessarily shared.
All this is a good thing. Since Zionism was about the Jews assuming power, it was always odd that we bypassed the mechanisms and the energies that related to the use of that power.
We can now all embrace the invigorating challenge of educating about the politics of Israel without turning them into an all-encompassing obsession…
Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit offers a useful way of looking at the compromises that were made in the process of coming up with the Kotel agreement, and what compromises PM Netanyahu made in choosing to freeze its implementation. In his book, On Compromise and Rotten Compromises, Margalit assesses when a compromise must be rejected, and when it should be accepted albeit while holding one’s nose. It is worth taking a look at the past few weeks in the light of Shady, Shoddy, and Shabby deals.
Finally, Margalit also points to what might be at the heart of the impassioned response to Netanyahu’s move: What constitutes decent behavior. While Israeli politicians such as Naftali Bennet point out that the current situation is not catastrophic for the progressive cause, since the platform at Robinson’s Arch will remain and even grow in size, Diaspora leadership will point not only to the result but to the process.
After having negotiated in good faith over the future of the Kotel, and after having agreed to a compromise – for this compromise to be summarily dumped is not only a poor result, it is poor behavior. In another of Margalit’s greats, he explores what he means by a Decent Society. A decent society is one in which its institutions do not humiliate its citizens. By extension we might say that a decent relationship between Israel and the Diaspora would be one that does not humiliate one side of the supposed-partnership.
[You might also be interested in the materials we created here about the Kotel a couple of years ago. The background is still highly relevant.]
Over Yom Ha’atzmaut, I decided to dive in to the best of Israeli popular culture. For each new song of HaDag Nachash I managed to translate, I rewarded myself with a Goldstar Unfiltered Beer.
Both were tasty, but while the songs didn’t affect the quality of the beer, as the afternoon wore on the beer certainly began to affect the quality of the translations.
I got through three.
And then there was the back-and-forth with Shaanan Streett, over all the brilliant Hebrew word-play that is untranslatable. Three key examples from their latest single:
1. First of all, the title itself. On their youtube channel, עוד יהיה טוב yihiye tov b’eretz yisrael is given as “Things will get better”. In the end for the translation we agreed on “All will yet be well”. It has more of a classical ring to it, which the strangely-dated chorus sound hints at.
2. Early on in the song, the rapper asks: “From what do I draw cheer?” And then throws down a translation challenge. “Not from the Labor (party) and certainly not from the Likud (party) – well maybe a little from the labor.” My slight of hand in putting a small “l” instead of a capital “L” for labor hints very poorly at the neat ambiguity in the Hebrew. Does he mean that he tends to the left of the political spectrum, or is he already sliding into a conversation about his own job? In Hebrew he could be saying both or neither. The English? Meh.
3. בנינו פיס בהתנחלויות Baninu Payis behitnachluyot refers to the standard-design cultural centers, sports and arts halls, that are built throughout the country by the National Lottery (Mif’al haPayis). A more literal translation would be something like “We built Payis buildings in the settlements”. However since the non-Israeli is unlikely to recognize such a reference, we went for the double-meaning of “lottery” – not just that the institution builds structures in the West Bank, but that this is something of a gamble…
Here are the three songs in their agreed versions. Just click on the “cc” button to choose English subtitles. And crack open a beer…
And here they are performing a bit of the song on the banks of the Kinneret…
In some professions, facts can indeed be your enemy.
It makes sense for politicians to argue over facts, and even hope to suggest alternate ones. Because for a politician facts are valent. There is either a “good” fact, or a “bad” fact – one that supports or weakens their agenda. Same goes for many other professions. I’m sure that when tobacco producers found out that smoking was bad for one’s health, they found this fact to be deeply troubling. TV dramas are full of “bad” facts: Throughout that HBO crime/court series “The Night Of” you are constantly left struggling with the idea that this kid must not tell the truth. The facts are against him.
But an educators’ job is to make sure that facts are neither friends nor enemies. Facts are there to be gathered, the more the merrier.
Facts are there to be gathered, the more the merrier.
And Israel Education in particular, forces us to embrace a fact-filled existence.
Because Israel is a “subject matter” so vibrant and complex that it can no longer fit into a straightforward narrative. There is no way we can only teach about Israel through her towering heroes, when some awkward myth-busting anecdote is waiting to be found online. We can’t only teach the woes of Israel as a Haredi-dominated theocracy, when Tel Aviv still exists. We can’t only teach about Israel being the safe haven for the Jewish People, when evidence of dangerous enemies calls this into question every day. Something contradictory will always crop up.
These contradictions, these complicating facts, these endless annoying and endearing anomalies, are what makes Israel so fascinating and dynamic. And as such, they become the educator’s magic dust. The fascinating truth about Israel, is that it is always going to be infinitely too broad for one person to grasp. When this is one’s educational message, then facts are not our enemy.
This is not to say that the educator’s only job is to overwhelm the student! But once freed of one’s exhausting “guard duty” against uncomfortable facts, we can focus on what is most important: To act as the “Guide for the Perplexed” by offering frameworks for the student to make sense of what threatens to be babble, and to build Israel into the Jewish identity of the learners.
By Robbie Gringras
Our reading of the research and our own experience has led us to a few conclusions about Israel education:
1. If students are to develop an ongoing relationship with Israel that will live beyond their time at school, they need to emerge with a framework to grasp a dynamic and complex Israel, that does not avoid politics but does not fetishize them, and that enables them to explain themselves to their non-Jewish friends or family.
2. This kind of Israel education requires new or adapted curricula, but far more importantly, it requires teachers who are equipped or trained to teach according to a different approach.
3. This approach needs to be easily-grasped, ideologically flexible (works for orthodox and reform, left or right-wing), practical (don’t need to invest years changing everything!), and perceived as relevant/necessary by the teachers and their institutions.