The outpouring of empathy, kindness, and good old supportive facts on the ground across the nation over the past couple of months has been nothing short of astounding and eminently heartwarming. And it goes on, and on.Practitioners from all areas of cultural and artistic endeavor have also been in the front line of applying their gifts and skills to provide some relief for those most affected by the horrors of the Hamas attack and have had to relocate for a time while some semblance of security order is restored to their area of residence. Thousands of evacuees from kibbutzim, moshavim, and towns in and around the Gaza border area have been put up in hotels and other accommodations in Jerusalem. And, while they may have been physically secure, they all – adults and kids alike – clearly needed something to boost their morale and provide them with a breather from their trauma and logistical and emotional tribulations.
The Artists Studio – Sam Spiegel in Talpiot was one of the first to extend a helping creative hand.
The occupants of the quasi-collective came together from a broad swathe of disciplines in search of a home for their daytime activity. They found it at the expansive facility formerly occupied by the internationally acclaimed Sam Spiegel Film School, which now operates from the downtown academic campus on Bezalel Street.
Yael Boverman-Attas, painter and graphic artist, kick-started the spiritual rescue plan. That was after she somehow managed to persuade the film school, which owns the singular building on Yad Harutzim Street, not to demolish it but replace it with yet another high-rise in the heavenward-rocketing urban skyline. “There are 10 or so artists based here,” she says. “There are pottery artists, photographers, music – the Jerusalem Street Orchestra is here – print, painting, all sorts.”
Five of the artists have been offering some of the fruits of their acquired artistic nous to evacuees, putting on workshops and performances, gratis, both at their Talpiot base and at the Bible Lands Museum. They have had some support from private bodies but, as yet, little in the way of financial backing from the taxpayer-financed authorities.
That private generosity means, for example, that participants in the free activities Boverman-Attas is running for these families suddenly uprooted from their home patches have paper on which to try out their awakening printing skills in the silkscreen workshops she gives in her airy studio space.
“Look at all this,” Boverman-Attas says, pointing to a pile of boxes at the far end of a corridor. “This is paper I received from printers I worked with many years ago. I thought they’d send me a couple of boxes, but they sent me a lot. As you can see, the pile is diminishing because we are using the paper.” She says that after a stuttering start, the word of the sorely needed activities spread like wildfire.
“We sent out calls in every possible direction. To begin with, we looked for people who had been put up in private homes. We assumed the evacuees who were staying in hotels were being taken care of and had things laid on for them, but there are a lot of people who were evacuated, or who decided to get away on their own initiative, who found accommodation for themselves. There are a lot of people who came to Jerusalem and didn’t have any framework. We sent out WhatsApp messages, put stuff on Facebook, we contacted the local war room, asked people to forward the information, and that sort of thing.”
It was, initially, tough going, but the social media play eventually proved successful. Boverman-Attas says the workshop enterprise has generated some esprit de corps rewards for all concerned.
“We have had up to 140 people in workshops here in a single day,” she notes proudly. “If Aya had tried to get something like that going on her own, she might have had maybe half a dozen people coming,” she adds, referencing ceramic artist Aya Margolis, whom we caught in the midst of washing her studio floor of pottery activity detritus.
“The main thing was to give the evacuees a means to relax and offload some feelings,” Margolis says. “The kids come here and get really involved in making the vessels and painting them. They used acrylic paints, something they are not used to. That really engaged them.”
Some of the yield of the pottery workshops were on display on Margolis’s shelves – handmade bowls, plates, and other receptacles, as well as some delightfully wild and wacky creations, clearly the result of youthful insouciance.
Back along the winding corridor, we caught the enchanting, softly cascading sound of a harp, played by Sari Shemesh Shabtai. She is also on board the volunteering train and has given several concerts with explanatory augmentation, both at the Bible Lands Museum and in Talpiot, to date. As her own practice unit at the Artists Studio premises is on the diminutive side, Shemesh Shabtai used the far larger spot used by the Jerusalem Street Orchestra.
“They have all sorts of instruments there, especially drums and other percussion instruments,” Boverman-Attas explains. (Orchestra percussionist) Cnaan (Canetti) has done some great workshops there for evacuee kids.
That, says the harpist, is not just a matter of divesting pent-up aggression and tension. “Cnaan also taught them how to play some things. Kids don’t see orchestra instruments on a regular basis.”
Shemesh Shabtai says she tailored the activities at the Bible Lands Museum towards the younger crowd and family-oriented fare. “We had one concert at which I played together with a flutist, and we had a quartet. And we gave a concert at the Ibis Jerusalem City Center Hotel on Ben-Yehuda Street. The evacuees are very eager to take part in cultural activities.”
Boverman-Attas says that she and her pals got going PDQ after the violence broke out down South. “We had people coming here on the first Thursday after the war began. We were one of the first to make these activities available,” she says.
The artists got a firsthand inkling of some of the emotional turmoil the evacuees endured as the Hamas terrorists set out on their path of barbaric destruction: “A family came here who saw terrorists killing people outside their house. They came to Jerusalem independently from one of the kibbutzim near Gaza.”
The trickle of eager participants became a veritable torrent as more and more displaced survivors of the Hamas attack found their way to Talpiot, in search of something to shut out the fresh memories of the bestial horrors they’d witnessed – at least for an hour or two. Boverman-Attas says the visitors arrived unprepared for the roll-out of creative therapeutic activities the artists had lined up for them.
“Families came here, primarily mothers with their children. They had no idea what they’d get here. In one place, there was music. And there was pottery – activities going on everywhere. This is a magical place.” And all freely offered – emotionally, professionally, and fiscally.
The surroundings were also an important element in the remedial lineup.
“As you can see, there is a homey ambiance here. These are not just cold industrial spaces.” I could see that as I spent time in some of the various studios, sitting with the artists, looking at some of the fruits of the workshops happily produced by the folks from down South.
“They come here amazed, almost paralyzed.”
That, thankfully, dissipates as soon as they get down and dirty with the raw materials. “Then they start working, and gradually their heads clear of the bad experiences they have had. The kids and also the parents were so happy with what they did here.”
That was certainly the case with the Hayoun family, who relocated from the South and attended a couple of Boverman-Attas’s drawing and printing workshops with some of their offspring.
“The activity is wonderful,” says Danny Hayoun, the father. “We got information about the art and creativity workshops. There were five of us from the family who took part.”
It was something of a leap into the unknown, but they soon settled in and started having fun. “We were surprised by what we found there,” Hayoun recalls. “We had no idea what to expect. And we weren’t familiar with the area at all. We don’t know Jerusalem.”
All concerned got down to brass tacks. “On the first day there, we took part in a drawing workshop with Yael,” notes Hayoun’s wife, Rachel. “The next day we did printing on (tote) bags.” Their oldest child, a young man of 23, came up with a novel idea for his bag design. “He printed his IP address,” Boverman-Attas laughs, although adding there was a dark tinge to the chosen aesthetic. “He said that it is the only address he takes with him wherever he goes.”
Hayoun says there was little needed in the way of adjustment to the alien artistic circumstances. “Yael is such a welcoming person. She offered us drinks and made us feel at home straight away. She let us try printing too, and she gave us the basics of how to draw and print. And we came back with the works we made,” he adds with more than a touch of happy, well-earned pride. The Hayouns returned home after a week in Jerusalem.
US-born, relatively recent olah Maureene Rubenstein also sent the participants in her weaving workshops home with something to look at, and even crow over. “They took their looms with them, and what they’d made,” she chuckles. “It was great fun, even though I don’t know much Hebrew. It worked out well because it’s visual and I know a little bit of Hebrew, and they knew enough little bit of English. There were also some people who know French,” she adds, reeling off a sentence or two in fluent French, part of which I caught. Where there’s a will there’s a communicative way. We did fine.”
Cecilia Lind, on the other hand, hung on to her participants’ output – but all for a good cause. “I asked the families that came to me to make tiles,” the ceramist explains.
“The children and parents all made ceramic tiles, and they engraved the name of the place they come from on them.” Looking at the close to 40-piece polychromic spread on Lind’s table – there were more on the shelves behind us waiting to be added – I got a sense of the enjoyment the workshop must have provided, as well as an opportunity to express something personal in the creative process.
Lind says she was aware of the added value visitors can glean from showing off the end product to their friends and neighbors, but that the people who turned up at her studio door were not put off when she asked them to leave the tiles behind.
“They were really moved that they were leaving something here, in Jerusalem, something they had done. That marks the time they spent here, a sort of testament to their stay in Jerusalem.” The idea is to, hopefully, at some stage get the Jerusalem Municipality on board and to have the full tile spread installed in a public space in the city. That would make for a pleasing heartwarming viewing experience for city dwellers going about their quotidian business.
Yael Ilan also found the evacuees who came to her photography studio more than willing to learn some of the tricks of the art form and try to come up with something original. Of course, it helps that we all constantly click away with our cellphone cameras, but the idea was to produce an image or two with something unique about it.
“I called the workshop Face to Face because I thought that is what we need right now – face to face, to look each other in the eye,” says Ilan.
Naturally, those participants could hang on to the results of the activity, on their phones or other virtual platform. But they also went away with deeper insight into the field which, Ilan hopes, will inform their future snapping. “It was a portrait photography workshop, so they could acquire some new skills which would help them to take better pictures later.”
Ilan says she was at pains to convey some of the substrata of her profession which, she believes, offered them a more immersive handle on visual documentation.
“As soon as you start talking about light, and a person’s look, eyes, and encounters, which are all basics of photography, they understand that we are talking about something much bigger. It was very moving for all of us.”
Even as all that duly tugs on the heartstrings and warms the cockles, there is still a reality to be faced.
While Boverman-Attas and the rest of the crew have been offering their services, happily, free of charge, there is still rent to be paid, raw materials to be purchased, and mouths to feed.
Encouragingly, she recently received an inquiry from the Sderot Municipality regarding the possibility of the Artists Studio running workshops for 150 ulpana (religious high school) students. If that works out, it would provide the artists with some welcome, much-needed revenue in these trying times. “We would like to host schools and workplaces that are looking for creative content,” she notes.
There are other potential avenues of financial underpinning. “People from abroad have asked us how they can help us,” says Boverman-Attas. “We can’t send things like ceramics. It would be very expensive and, with our postal system, who knows if they would even arrive. But maybe people can sponsor our workshops.”
The artistic skills, desire, and demand are all there. There is only the small matter of finance. “I worked out that it costs us NIS 130,000 a month to run such a (workshop) project – 13 artists, rent, raw materials, a website, marketing, registration. It is great to help people, but we need to sustain this.”
Here’s hoping the artists manage to get that together, for the good of us all. ❖
For more information: yaelboverman.wixsite.com/artiststudio/