We are in the midst of the period between the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av (July 5 –26 of this year) when the Jewish world mourns the destruction of the first and second Temples, both symbols of Jewish sovereignty that was lost for 2,000 years.
Both Temples were built on Jerusalem’s Mount Moriah, which also symbolizes spirituality and the connecting point between earthly Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem. Jewish sovereignty was restored only in 1948 when David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, declared the rebirth of the Jewish state. Ever since, Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish world, rejuvenated its spiritual magnitude through Jerusalem’s creative world of art.
In its early years and through all cultural and social changes, Israel’s art scene is most associated with Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Established in 1906 by sculptor Boris Schatz, it exhibits its graduates final art works these days.
Bezalel —the first artist mentioned in the Bible — is the namesake of Israel’s leading art school. The Torah says that God filled him with “wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all manner of workmanship – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” (Exodus 31, 1-5).
Artists are gifted. They are blessed with the ability to share their own interpretation to the world’s wonders as well as its pain. They are granted with the sensitivity to translate thoughts into colors, shapes, notes and words, or, in the Bible’s words—God’s spirit and wisdom. Israel is a unique geo-political junction, the meeting point of Western and Eastern culture, between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And it was only appropriate that the new state-of-the-art campus planned to be built by 2017, be located in the Russian Compound between the Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Museum of Underground Prisoners, a multi-cultural meeting place, so typical to Jerusalem. This spectacular new campus is made possible thanks to the generosity of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio, which also funds JCC Association’s Center for Excellence in Leadership and Management and its Center for Jewish Education. This major gift follows the foundation’s long-standing support of Israel’s art, which includes housing a collection of more than 100 pieces, works of Bezalel students at the foundation offices in Jerusalem. Or as Morton L. Mandel, foundation chairman and CEO and JCC Association honorary chair says:” The gift represents our desire to support Bezalel, the city of Jerusalem and the advancement of art in Israel”.
Israel’s artists, along with other grassroots innovators, aspire to better improve life, inspire evolution change and enrich our existence with meaning and diversity. Those who make up Jerusalem’s local, creative scene will gather at the upcoming JCC Innovation Lab in November.
The special language of art is above and beyond physical borders, rules, geographical barriers, political obstacles, social impediments and any sort of prejudice. That’s its power, the strength to rise over troubled waters, bridge gaps and connect where there is disconnect. The beauty of artistic language should and can be adopted throughout other aspects of life. And where dispute arise, we can apply artistic skills of transforming challenges into opportunities and disagreements can become pluralistic diversity.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the case 2,000 years ago. The sages say that the second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. for sinat chinam, baseless hatred. The people of Israel were divided into too many sects, which led to endless disputes and eventually to animosity. We were fighting one another, separated from one another and therefore weak and easily defeated.
But we grew, learned from our forefathers’ errors and today, 2,000 years later can proudly share Israel’s diversity and pluralism as a force of strength rather than weakness. The Talmud taches us that “The rivalry of scribes increases wisdom,” and that “Dispute for the sake of Heaven will last.” As learned through the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot 5, these are not only positive methods of learning, but also were encouraged by our sages as they increase mutual studying, by sharing the richness of thoughts and opinions. From time to time we need to remind ourselves to dispute only for the sake of heaven—without prejudice, judgment and discrimination.
This side of Israel is one of many. And one that close to 250 participants will experience this summer as part of their JCC Maccabi Israel Teen Travel program. These teens come from the Emma Kaufmann Camp of the Greater Pittsburgh JCC; the Michael Ann Russell JCC in Miami, the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC of Milwaukee; Camp Wise of the Mandel JCC of Cleveland; Camp Chi of JCC Chicago; Pinemere Camp in Pennsylvania, Camp Livingstone in Cincinnati Ohio, the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and the ARTEL Teen Fellowship spearheaded by the JCH of Bensonhurst. Thanks to their visit to Israel, these teens will grow up more attached to Israel and more aware of Israel’s great relevancy and contribution to their lives as North American Jewish teens. Learning to communicate and share opinions through the open-minded language of art will certainly be one of the gifts this summer in Israel will leave them with.
The second Temple was destroyed for baseless hatred; redemption will come upon us when we demonstrate acceptance, tolerance and baseless love, or better still, endless love.
Vice President and Director, JCC Israel Center