We are living in dramatic times. The political system in Israel is in turmoil. We wonder: Is the pandemic behind us? Is there a new routine? When will we be able to meet again in person with friends from around the world?
Especially now, with Pesach and spring ahead, I want to bring you three optimistic stories from Jerusalem to share my hopeful belief that better times are not too far away.
Saddam and a New Spirit?
What did Saddam Hussein fail to accomplish in Jerusalem that, Yossi Klar, CEO of Ruach Hadasha/ New Spirit, is managing to do today? And how are the two even connected? The connection will be clear by the end of this story and once you know more about Yossi Klar. Yossi is a relatively new CEO, young, involved and passionate about Jerusalem, and New Spirit is a movement of dynamic artists, activists and entrepreneurs whose goal is to strengthen the city of Jerusalem and make it an attractive and inspirational city where young people of all backgrounds can live together.
New Spirit is moving into its new home in a building which Jerusalemites identify as “The Old Shaarei Tzedek Hospital”. The building was built in 1902 and served as a hospital in the early days of the modern city which was expanding outside the Old City walls.
For decades, the building served as a hospital and then when the hospital moved to Bayit ve Gan, the building was abandoned for 20 years before it was turned over to the government. They decided to establish the Israel Broadcasting Authority complex at the site. Since the closure of the Broadcasting Authority, the building remained empty until it was sold to developers. The Canada Israel company will develop the surrounding area as part of the new business center at the entrance to the city. This development and construction will take some time, and meanwhile they are allowing these young entrepreneurs to use the space at no cost, as they did in New Spirit’s former home, the Alliance House adjacent to Mahane Yehuda.
The new home will be a center for dozens of not for profits as well as an artistic and cultural center for young, cutting-edge Jerusalemites. The Jerusalem Foundation has supported New Spirit for many years, and it is natural that we help them move into their new home with a special grant from the Innovation Fund for Community and Culture, an initiative of the Jerusalem Foundation Inc. in the USA.
While the Broadcasting Authority was based in the old hospital building, they used the basement for storage, but in the late 1990s they set up broadcast studios below ground, in preparation for the first Gulf War and in response to Saddam Hussein’s missile threats. The plan was to provide an alternative to the nearby Israeli radio and television studios that were not protected and were vulnerable to attack. Large sums were invested in the space, but it was never used for broadcasting.
The missiles fired at Israel were not aimed at Jerusalem, and the underground studios were never used. The studios stood empty for 30 years. The building changed hands, but no one touched the studios. Now, 30 years later, they will be used for the first time. The radio studios will become a center for broadcasting podcasts from Jerusalem to listeners around the world, and the television studios will be transformed into a center for photography and video arts recording for young Jerusalem artists.
To bring the story full circle, Yossi Klar has been able to accomplish what Saddam Hussein could not: for the first time, the hidden basement studios will be used for broadcasting, infusing the historic building with a “New Spirit”.
Theater out of the box
It was the end of February, and I found myself sitting with my wife in the Khan Theater Auditorium, during the first days after the lockdown was relaxed, and we were laughing. Something that during regular days does not merit any special mention, but after the crazy year we have had, how welcome and liberating it was! The British comedy “Blithe Spirit” by Noel Coward took us to amusing worlds and let us forget our daily cares for a few hours.
The Khan Theater is one of the first institutions that the Jerusalem Foundation established in the city, with the support of the Gestetner family from the United Kingdom. Always a trendsetter, the Khan decided to take the lead and be the first theater in Israel to reopen its doors under the new green passport rules. Only a supremely professional and dedicated team could have put this all together for opening night, within six short days.
Believe me that no one noticed any small mistakes or missteps that resulted from such a short turnaround of production. When the excitement of the actors and the director was at its peak, two hours before the curtain rose, even the Prime Minister came to visit behind the scenes, and the director shared with him some of his thought on the final details of the performance…
It was a magical evening – we have been missing and longing for a return to culture, to theater, to normal and creative life in Jerusalem for far too long.
Above all I felt proud that Jerusalem has once again led the way.
Already in the long months of last summer we knew that the Khan Theater was forging new trends with its creativity and innovation. Between the second and third lockdowns, the Jerusalem Foundation supported another wonderful production of the Khan, the play “Tehila” by Shai Agnon, a wandering journey through the alleys of the nearby Yemin Moshe neighborhood. It was an extraordinary Jerusalem experience that turned all the restrictions and prohibitions around opening theater halls into an opportunity for an innovative theater experience.
And this is just the beginning. The Khan’s Director General, Elisheva Mazya, summed it up: “We fell in love with going outside.” The theater is breaking the accepted norms and starting to do theater “out of the box”. Productions are already being planned for the theater courtyard. The Jerusalem Foundation’s Innovation Fund is also supporting the Khan’s next major project.
But remember, you have been “warned”: the play planned for the courtyard deals with a now “familiar” theme – it’s “The Plague” by Albert Camus…
Wishing everyone health!
“I am not” – I am
One of the most wonderful natural phenomena in the world and in the ocean is “Schooling”. Thousands of fish, sometimes many more, swim in a group as if in a perfect, coordinated dance movement. This is their way of surviving in the world. But what happens when one fish swims against the current?
This is exactly what is portrayed in the amazing art installation entitled “I am Not” recently installed in the entrance lobby to the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium at the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo, next to the schooling pool.
The artwork is by Jerusalem artist Andi Arnovitz whose work has been exhibited throughout the world. In the installation of impressive scale and bright colors, 1,200 fish and seahorses swim in unison in colorful groups. Only one fish faces them and swims against the current… It is not easy to identify the rebel fish within the large school, but it is possible if you look carefully. The piece is thought-provoking, cannot be ignored and will certainly become a popular “photo-op” for hundreds of thousands of Aquarium visitors each year.
I first encountered this work at the Jerusalem Biennale, a unique meeting between contemporary art and Jewish cluture which takes place every two years at various sites in the city, with support from the Jerusalem Foundation.
“I am Not” was exhibited in the space of the old swimming pool in the YMCA sports complex. As soon as I saw it, I told Andi it was clear where the work should find its permanent home. It took some time, but the porcelain fish finally found their place in the Aquarium. The Jerusalem Foundation found the financial resources to install the work, Andy and her team lovingly hung the fish one by one, and the mission was completed. The work is breathtaking.
We owe a huge thank you to Andi Arnowitz and her creation. The task may be technically complete, but the thought that the piece evokes will stay with us: Should we swim against the current? How can we be unique and independent? How to balance community with the individual? These are just some of the thoughts and ideas that emerge from looking at the impressive work – and Andi must have had more ideas she wanted to express as well.
If you have not yet planned a visit to the Aquarium, here is one more reason to visit soon!
Wishing you all a Happy Passover, Happy Easter, and a spring full of health and hope for the future.
Jerusalem Foundation President