Jerusalem Biennale – A New Vision

Over the years I have had the pleasure to visit many museums and art galleries. I have  learned a lot about early cavemen, dinosaurs, the pyramids to the first exploration into space. I was fortunate to visit all the famous art galleries in Paris and London. The onus was on me however to decide how to use what I saw. Too often art exists without its true expression. The same thing applies to Jewish history and the State of Israel. With all the life and creativity that exists in this small country, there is no real place that captures our true ingenuity.

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Meet one visionary who is starting to transform how we look at art, Jerusalem and Jewish creativity. Rami Ozeri who up until a few years ago was a successful columnist on the rise and success of corporate Israel and gave it up to follow his true passion. He is the founder of the Jerusalem Biennale. Although Rami grew up as a secular Jerusalemite, he found great love for tradition from his grandfather who he remembers fondly. As he got older and met his future wife they began to embrace all aspects of Judiasm. Rami commented, “Jewish tradition isn’t just alive; its flourishing in every aspect and the world of art in no different. My goal is to blend Jewish tradition and modernity here in our capital. The word in Hebrew for law is Halacha, which means movement. Judaism is in constant movement and evolution and Jerusalem needs to be at the center to capture the wonders of contemporary Jewish Art.”

Image result for rami ozeriSince his first exhibition in 2013, there is a new buzz in the city. Artists are excited to work with Rami. They identify with his vision and realize that his ideas could be the game changer in Israel and Jerusalem. Rami invests in artists and not real-estate. The building is a mere backdrop for art.

To date, the Jerusalem Biennale has hosted over 100 different artists from every area of art and participants  from over the 30 countries around the world and the upcoming opening of the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale will be no different (October 1 – November 16, 2017).

Visit any of the venues around the capital and discover art like you have never seen.

Venues include the Tower of David, Van Leer Research Institute, Austrian Hospice, Bible Lands Museum, Bezeq Building, Skirball Museum at Hebrew Union College, Museum of the Underground Prisoners and Achim Hasid.

Private and group tours of the Biennale are available in English. Information: tours@jerusalembiennale.org

For times, locations and general information, click here.

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We’re Family After All

I had never been to their community or synagogue but somehow I felt I had something to loose. I felt a sense of cognitive dissonance and a chance meeting with a Rabbi I trusted set things right. I told him I was invited to a family wedding in a conservative community and I felt uncomfortable going because it would somehow infringe on my religious views and practices. The Rabbi assured me that ‘attending a family celebration was a good idea and not to be missed. Family is family!’ I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have come to realize that the basic problem was a lack of knowledge.

First, despite differences between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews there is common ground. The Bible is still important and viewed as a guide to life; there is a strong need for social involvement or what many call Tikkun Olam and there is a genuine love for the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks tells the story that someone returning from a Hillel Conference in the U.S. notices that their were four separate prayer services according to denomination but they all prayed the same style (nusach) -Carlebach.

Although there might have been a reasons for the split between the Orthodox and Reform communities in the 1800’s today it seems that we have more in common and our paths are on a collision course. The conservative synagogue I visited was full of energy, people who were curious and interested, a community on a self discovery journey between themselves and their Jewish heritage. Only the ten commandments were etched in stone. Perhaps this is the message we have to reaffirm. We are all on a journey on how to serve God and the Torah is our guide. If Chassidut was about approaching God from a different angle then Reform to me was about stepping back and refocusing and not about a disconnect. All these movements are important because they give focus. Its ironic that while the Temple stood in Jerusalem, there were no chairs. Everyone was moving, interacting and discovering. Everyone served God but not necessarily the same way. Perhaps now is the opportunity to hear the other side. We don’t have to pray together but we can hear and get to know.  Its ironic that we wouldn’t think of talking to the other side on our own initiative but travel to another part of the world and visit a Chabad House and all of a sudden we spend Shabbat talking with Jews who are complete strangers. If their was “a time to rend; then now is the time to sew” as King Solomon mentions in the Book of Ecclesiastes. After all, family is family!

Unit 8200 or Bais Yaacov

A friend recently forwarded me an episode of a program called Hello World created by Bloomberg News , that takes you on a journey that stretches across the globe to find inventors, scientists and technologists who shape our future. Each episode explores a different country and uncovers the ways in which the local culture and surroundings have influenced their approach to technology. Hello World’s segment on Israel suggested that the tech craze that has developed in Israel is being fueled by a unit of the Israel Defense Force called Unit 8200. This idea has garnered growing support  with high profile start ups like Checkpoint, NICE and ICQ, all of which were founded by alumnis of Unit 8200.

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Pictured here is the second graduating class of the Bais Yaacov in Lodz, Poland 1934

Yet there is a silent revolution that is fueling this high tech success story that is only now starting to garner attention.  A growing number of CEOs have acknowledge that without all the charedi women entering the workforce it would be unclear whether there would be so many successful high tech companies. The number of highly educated Charedi women entering the work force at all levels is booming. When Bais Yaacov was established, the ultra orthodox community recognized that women needed basic education just like men. But the focus was about looking inwards to the family and home. Women are now realizing that to maintain a life outside of poverty, a steady income and most often two incomes is a necessity.

Institutions like the Lustig campus, Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) campus for Haredi women located in Ramat Gan, which was established in 1998 enables Haredi women, who are seeking to improve the economic conditions of their families by earning an academic degree in areas like computer science, software engineering, MBA and accounting. Machon Tal which caters to women in the religious Zionistic community have additional programs like Bio-infomatics, Electro-optics engineering, communications systems engineering and nursing.

So what’s having a greater impact – Unit 8200 or Bais Yacov?

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Training in Unit 8200 I.D.F

The I.D.F knows that it always has to be ahead of the game regarding our enemy. No one wins in war; it’s the triumph of survival. Only those that pursue life will triumph. For that, each branch of the army deserves recognition. The ability of Unit 8200 to recruit 18 year old’s who show potential for creating innovative approaches to security is a daunting task. Bais Yacov girls by contrast are taught about drive, discipline and purpose from a very young age. Torah education in general can create a great sense of purpose. Bais Yaacov girls are taught already at a young age that the direction of the home will be decided by them. They’re not looking for fame or fortune so ego doesn’t come into play but success does. And when your company fills up with employees like that, the sky is the limit.

Our triumph to live is what inspires us to advance. Very few Israelis ever think about the threats we face even though most Israelis serve in the army. We are not oblivious to the threat of nuclear holocaust against our country. But Euro Football 2016, vacation and work take far more attention.

Although Unit 8200 is a source of pride to all Israelis, our technological ingenuity has advanced further than any nation because we cherish life, family and education. Israel is the furthest thing from a military superpower. It’s the combination and unusual ability to foster peoples talents like young soldiers and young religious women that has created national success.

When peace comes we will be the only nation to throw away our guns.

Chief Scientist Warns High Tech Success May Not Last

Inside Israel’s Secret Startup Machine

MY MY, HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED

ramle2I little more than ten years ago I spent my first Shabbat in Ramle at my in-laws. It was also my first visit to Ramle. I knew very little about Ramle besides the regular stereotypical comments people like to make. Even today when I tell people that I was in Ramle people comment, WHAT WERE YOU DOING THERE?@?! But in truth, it’s a quiet little city, with a mixed population including Arabs and Jews, a quaint outdoor market, and a population who wears flip flops and tank tops all year round to survive the brutal heat. About a year after we were married I prayed one Shabbat next door at a synagogue (shul) called Kodshe Hashoah. It was simply an old shul with a dying membership of Holocaust survivors. Every time I went back to pray at Kodshe Hashoah there were fewer people in shul.

It’s commonly known that young orthodox couples are somewhat limited where they can live. The connivance of living in big cities means better religious structure. The problem is that big cities are becoming extremely expensive and young couples can no longer afford to live in cities like Jerusalem without parental support. At the same time, cities like Beer Sheva, Ramle, Lod, Hod Hasharon, Yaffo, and many more were seeing the end of religious life. When I went to Yaffo ten years ago there was only one active shul out of 15, with 9 slated for demolition. This reality forced young religious couples to address this growing paradox.

ramle1A number of religious families came to the conclusion that even in the era of high tech, the word pioneer still carries great meaning. A group of religious Zionistic families decided to move together to Ramle and revive and invigorate the Jewish community. Eventually Kodshe Hashoah became a center of their activities. Members of the shul were only too happy to give over the keys to these pioneers.  Slowly more families moved and benefited from lower housing prices and closer proximity to major centers of commerce. Today there are 50 families and 120 children that have moved and began to change the very fabric of the city culture life. Many of them have taken positions in the community schools, day cares, army bases in the area and religious council. What’s nice about this is that it gave a new spirit to the city. Religious Zionists aren’t saints but they are guide by lofty ideals. Over the last few years, the city of Ramle has seen a cultural and societal change. Safety has improved, city schools have improved, traditional Jewish life has improved and better coexistence among the various ethnic groups. And this story isn’t limited to Ramle. The same thing is taking place in Yaffo, Lod, Bat Yam, Hod Hasharon and more. Citizens from these communities have been only too happy to welcome these pioneers. Synagogues that were once closed and slated for demolition are reopening and slowly filling up. It’s not the mere prayer service that’s making the change but the combination of seeing idealistic families who want to revitalize cities that lost their spiritual calling and perhaps something else.

Organizations like Rosh Yehudi and Shaalei Torah are leading the people towards a spiritual revolution, better economic prosperity and higher standards of education. These success stories have also been recognized by their respective municipalities as well as the government of Israel. The absorption minister has so far ear marked 50 million shekels to use these groups to help integrate new olim into Israeli society. And municipalities like Ramle are receiving more funding to improve infrastructure now that they boast better schooling and lower crime rates.

Special thanks:
Rabbi Oriah Shachor – Rav Beit Knesset Kodshe Hashoa
Naama Zarbiv – Head of the Garin in Ramle
Galit Cohen – assistant to the Mayor of Ramle.

Forbidden Fruit

sustainablelivngI recently visited a farm that had signs on the fruit trees that read, “EAT ME”. One of the girls in the group read the sign and did just that. She picked the fruit and ate it. She commented afterwards that it was sweet and refreshing.

Every morning I walk by countless fruit trees where the fruits grow beautifully and then rot because no one picks them for consumption. If that isn’t strange, we then go to the grocery store and buy those same fruit. But why?

The farm I’m referring to is called – Hava & Adam Farm: a multidisciplinary center involved in environmental and social education located near the city of Modi’in.

I feel that somehow, I like many others have been taught that you buy fruits and vegetables commercially rather then pick the fruits directly from the tree. Somehow we have been distances from our beautiful surroundings and are officially tech-urban dwellers. Nature is reserves for day trips to the country or like we did on Sunday’s in Montreal Canada, apple or strawberry picking. Or we have the farmers bring the produce to the city shuk or open market.

After visiting this farm I began to wonder: Can the high-tech city life provide sustainable living for all people? Around the world, people that lived off the land for generations are leaving everything behind in hopes of a lucky break in the city. The Chinese government estimates that close to 300 millions people will take that risk in the upcoming years which is bigger than the size of America. This imbalance in China and around the world is extremely dangerous. Smartphones can’t feed us or grow apples. The farming industry in the U.S.A is disappearing and so to all those cozy little towns along the Greyhound Bus routes that existed for generations.

Governments need to develop the high tech industry since innovation keeps the mind and body proactive. But governments need to revitalize and develop traditional industries like farming in order to ensure sustainable living for all people.

Sources

Rethinking China’s Cities, Fortune Magazine 2012 – article

Hava & Adam Farm – website

The Story of Change – 9 minute video

A New Voice, Old Problems

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Wlliam Ury tell a wonderful story about a man who leaves his herd of 17 camels to his three sons as their inheritance. To the first son, he leaves half the camels; to the middle son, he leaves a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he leaves a ninth of the camels. The three sons get into an intense negotiation over who should get how many, because 17 doesn’t divide by two, or by three, or by nine. Tempers become strained, so in desperation they consult a wise, old woman. She listens to their problem and says, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but if you want, at least you can have my camel.” Now they have 18 camels, so the first son takes half of them, or nine camels; the middle son takes his third, or six camels; and the youngest son takes his ninth, or two camels. Nine plus six plus two adds up to a total of 17 camels. There is one camel left over, so the brothers give it back to the woman. (TED Ideas 2017)

One of the most common questions that is asked about the Middle East conflict is whether their will be sustainable peace between Israelis and Arabs?

William Ury, co-author of “Getting to Yes” and many other classics on conflict resolution knows a lot about the Israeli-Arab conflict, being involved in the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in the 1980’s and having served as a mediator in conflicts around the world. Prof. Ury is convinced that peace is a possibility!  Along with his colleagues they came up with the idea called “Abraham Path” as a healthier way of understanding the greater commonality between the three main religions as oppose to our differences. Jew, Christians and Muslims are all connected to Abraham. Abraham was known for hospitality, kindness and respect. The goal of this organization is to encourage people to walk side by side the path of Abraham and find the commonality through Abraham’s teaching.
It’s a perspective worth learning about.

I have since read a wonderful book called ‘Not in God’s Name’, by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks that addresses the growing violence perpetrated in the name of God. In the most subtle way, Rabbi Sacks shifts our eyes to words that seem to be overlooked in narratives we know so well. These are words like love, brotherhood, family  and Notingodsname blessing. How is this possible ? In part it has to do with education and intuition. When we learn about the siblings in the Book of Genesis, intuitively one can think that if one is chosen then the other is rejected, one is loved and the other is not. Rabbi Sacks points out consistently throughout the narrative, that choseness and love are part of one whole. We are all loved by God and chosen for different tasks. His book touches on the Quran and the New Testament. His insights are a new opportunity towards mutual understanding and respect. If only we will listen to voices of common sense. 

Story About Stuff

storyof stuffSomehow it seems that people are either crazy about environmental issues or already out the door. But in truth, no one denies its importance only that once mentioned we somehow feel obligated to change our whole lifestyle. One of the goals of Focus Israel is to encourage critical thinking, educate ourselves and others and bring about healthy change.

I heard about this movie on Channel 1 news on Israeli TV. This animated movie is based on ten years of research by Annie Leonard on the processes that produce all the stuff we use each day in our lives. Although comical and humorous, Annie shows where our craze for all our stuff comes from and the cost it is having on our environment and people.

Click to watch. I know you will enjoy!