I recently returned from vacation in Israel, specifically an art & culture immersion trip in the north. Steeped in all things visual – painting, photography, sculpture, textiles, video, architecture, even dance – I was surprised to find myself deep in thought about words and their meanings... words like “Israel."
THIS YOM HA‘ATZMAUT, WHAT DOES ISRAEL MEAN TO YOU?
Signing up for this trip, I figured I’d be learning a lot about art and The Mishkan Museum of Art in Ein Harod, the organizer of my trip (which, by the way, wow!). I didn’t imagine I’d learn how many different meanings Israel has to different people – even to different Israelis.
In one week, our small group met more than a dozen artists, curators, and collectors. We explored hundreds of works ranging from paintings that were carried on the backs of pioneers fleeing pogroms, to the most contemporary conceptual installations. Each artist appeared to put his or her own Israel, and Israeliness, into their work – and each was vastly different in their expressions of Israel’s people, politics, history, its aspirations, triumphs, wounds, and regrets.
With every artist, every teacher, every patron and work I encountered, I learned more ways to describe Israel – ways that hadn’t previously occurred to me: words such as searching, mirror, ember, mother, to name a few. The meanings I attach to these words in this context are nuanced and complicated and challenging and endearing, and each has some special thread of magic running through it.
A few of the many things Israel means to me: (top l to r) award-winning wines made by adults with special needs; artists grappling with personal and national narratives; neighborhood book stores; nightlife! (bottom l to r) Jewish/Arab neighbors in harmony; welcoming doors and warm hearts; children's public art; idyllic natural beauty.
The week after my trip, I had my xx-year (I’ll never tell) college reunion. An old friend, Jewish friend, bristled on hearing I’d just come back from Israel. “I couldn’t go there,” she said, disapprovingly. Apparently, in her mind, Israel means just one thing. It was clear we define our terms differently.
Long before this vacation, I personally viewed Israel as many different things – some that awe me, some that encourage me, some that trouble me. I have never felt I need to like or agree with everything that happens there to see the goodness in Israel – surely in its people and its place in the world, but more than that… Israel with a capital I and everything that means.
As for the artists and curators we met on my trip, whose burning questions (and even some answers) about family, identity, and peoplehood – among many others – are all in their work, I am deeply grateful they have shared their Israel with me, and the world.
As we celebrate Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) tomorrow, May 8, ask yourself what words reflect Israel’s meaning to you. I hope you’ll join in on the community-wide Israel Independence Day celebration Wednesday evening at Congregation Sons of Israel, Manalapan, and connect all the more with your own answers to that question.
To the many meanings of Israel,
Chief Marketing Officer