BY Abby Hockman
When I signed up for an art tour of Jerusalem, I had no idea what to expect. Prior to my stay in the city, I had been in Tel Aviv, where the art scene dominates every corner, nook, and cranny of the city. Modern art in Jerusalem appears hidden at first glance, but the tour revealed a story about a group of women that I am extremely excited to share with you!
During the tour, we visited a community art center where people from multiple religions and secular artists create side by side.
After climbing a few flights of stairs, my group visited the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women that occupied a space upstairs. Tears immediately threatened to spill over my waterline as I simply looked around at the art hanging from the walls, strewn about the floor, and in the hands of the women who created it.
The images were powerful. One section contained portraits with a creative use of paint. The next had gorgeous, bold scenes of family. Another had bright pink, purple, and green shreds of paper adhered to canvas (which I thought was paint at first!) with black words written in Hebrew overtop displaying a clear message.
I attempted to get myself under control before the rest of the group noticed. If you have been following this blog, you can guess how well that went! And they had not even told their story yet!
I took a deep breath, allowed myself to be moved, and listened the artists explain what makes their spot in the center special:
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women are often solely responsible for not only financially supporting their families, but also raising the children and seeing to the overall needs of the family. This is the case if the man decides to become a scholar, which requires devoting the majority of his time to studying the Torah.
There is little incentive for women to create art because it is not bringing in money. It is an individual pursuit that is contrary to the role of a woman from this sect of Judaism, which is concentrated on continually giving to her family. The small group of Ultra-Orthodox women in this room have a dedicated space to unleash their creative genius, hone their skills, experiment, and experience the support of other artistic peers.
As I looked through the oil paintings, mixed media projects, and sketches, I thought about what would happen to the special artistic spark in these women if they did not have this space as a haven for their creativity. Perhaps many of them would never work on their art, which would lead to a slightly less beautiful world and possibly deep-rooted, confusing emotions in the women from not being able to express themselves.
I am happy they are able to work in this place, yet I am also extremely sad for others that may not have the same opportunity.
A few of the women spoke about not only their creativity, but how the center has brought down walls between the people who create within and visit it. The center promotes the intermingling of cultures in a beautiful, unique way.
Jerusalem is a city where important sites across three major religions are literally on top of each other. If you visit for the day or even a week, you may not notice some of the undertones in the interaction of the locals. The longer I stay, the more I catch little interactions or hear stories from people of all three religions about how they have experienced discrimination from other groups or different sects within their own group.
Even though the world is full of beautiful, different cultures, art is important to all. This center is an important way for everyone to work together towards cohabitation, acceptance of one another, and collaboration. It fosters communication through one of our most powerful universal connectors – art.
Do you have a place in your town that is similar to this center? Or do you have a creative outlet you cannot imagine living without? Let me know in the comments! Mine is writing poetry and taking photos.
Also, I would love to give a shoutout to Caron Greenblatt of Jerusalem Art Tours who led the tour. This was one of the absolute highlights of my time in Israel! Keep her in mind if you visit!