Thursday, March 24, 2016

Magic Unfolds

March 28, 2016 text by Fran Rosenstein, photos by Martin Arend

Today we said good-by to Jerusalem, making our way north to the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee).  On the way one could see transitions on many levels, the modernization of transportation modes, the decline of farming as urbanization takes place even in smaller villages and the reminders of shifting political borders.  It is daunting to realize that so much history is just beneath every surface here. Road signs along the way repeating the names of cities makes one realize how small and vulnerable this country really is. 

Our first stop of the day was at the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage (AMOCA) in
Sakhnin.  As we entered the area we were greeted by the  sounds of egrets in a tree rookery outside the museum, another visual delight that resembled a bloom of large white flowers.

by Mehdi-Georges Lahlou
We were then welcomed by Belu-Simion Fainaru and Avital Bar-Shay, co-directors of this museum designed by Egyptian architect Abed Yasseen that opened in 2009.  The museum provides an opportunity for artists to show their work; however, its primary mission is to make art accessible to people, provide a place of diversity 
where ideas about cultures can be shared as well as a place to dialogue and resolve conflicts.  Belu talked about working together with the Arabic mayor of town to promote this institution, educating each other as the project has evolved, even starting with the simplest task of naming streets so people can find the museum.  A variety of artworks were displayed including paintings, photographs, inlaid wood, videography and clothing.  What was impressive was the explanation of how culture and religious restrictions impacted artists and their work.  Of particular interest were works that dealt with current controversial issues making creative use of humor to provoke thought.  Sadly, political animosities and allegiances have often challenged relationships and art exchanges in the functioning of the museum.

We stopped for falafel sandwiches in a cafĂ© sponsored by the museum, observing Arabs, mostly men, who were also frequenting this restaurant.  We next wended our way to Tz’fat, hearing about the burial sites of the Tanayim (fourth century interpreters of Midrash).  There we climbed many many steps to the home of Rabbi Noah Greenberg. 

Rabbi Greenberg proceeded to take us on a magical journey, introducing us to the shtender.  The shtender is a lectern type stand used by Jewish men in prayer and study. Together David Moss and Noah Greenberg developed the concept of integrating the many elements in Jewish practice into what appears to be a simple piece of furniture.  We soon realized simple was not the operative word. 

Rabbi Greenberg described how the shtender was divided into three sections holding religious objects for daily, weekly and yearly practice.  Then he began one by one to unveil the elements neatly hidden within.  In doing so he described how these different objects employed the seven species indigenous to Israel as design elements.  These included wheat, barley, grapes, dates, figs, pomegranates, and olives.  These three dimensional motifs were beautifully carved from one solid piece of wood.  The daily section housed tefillin, a tzdekka box and a siddur. The weekly section housed a seven branch Shabbat candle holder, a Kiddish set, a challah cutting board and knife and ritual objects for Havdalah.  It was amazing how much attention was paid to detail and how cleverly the two artists constructed each piece into an amazing whole.  The last section included objects related to holiday celebrations throughout the year.  Some of our favorites were a box for the shofar where the ram’s horn emerged from a thicket of carved ebony wood.   For Sukkhot there were containers for the etrog and a lulav, even included an extender in case the lulav was extra long, sparking jests about the shtender extender.  With Pesach fast approaching, we eagerly waited to see what would be revealed next.  We were not disappointed as Rabbi Greenberg carefully unfolded the most intricate pieces starting with a matzo container which became the base that held a seder plate.  Hanukkah held a menorah and Purim had the piece de la resistance,  a wooden tube for the megillah.  Carved on the outside was a hangman's noose for the evil Haman.  Inside the bottom half of the shtender the megillah case fastened by a magnet so Haman literally hung.  Moss and Greenberg used reverence in creating these sacred objects, but their sly sense of humor was demonstrated throughout.

Rabbi Greenberg then took us to the central part of the old city to the Caro synagogue and described its history.  We then had some free time to wander around the many shops of Tz'fat.  We finished the day having dinner in Rosh Pina and headed to Ein Gev for the evening.

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