Monday, November 21, 2011

West Bank Notes, continued

I met a friend in Jerusalem, to spend the afternoon walking around the city in neighborhoods that drew me in tight enough to start asking about rents.  At the Waffle Bar we discussed getting to her settlement south of Hebron.  She said we could take the bus to Kiryat Arba and hitch home, was I OK with that, or we could have someone pick us up at the bus stop.  I was OK with hitching since she did it all the time, no need to disturb anyone.  I'd hitched all over Israel many years ago and across the US, when I too was in my twenties. She said she often stayed at her sister's house at the settlement rather than by her parents ever since the recent terrorist murders, because there were bars at the windows and she felt safer, and I asked, why then was she willing to hitchhike? She said she didn't mean to frighten me, we could take the bus, it's bullet proof. We're taking the bus, I said. But when we got to the outskirts of Kiryat Arba, it was clear that hitchhiking meant waiting at the bus stop with several others also waiting for rides, and that, out there, passing cars always stopped. Jewish cars. We got a ride.

There was an agreement between me and those I was visiting not to discuss politics.  I didn't bring up the causes of violence, or the substance of fear.

The settlement is a beautiful cluster of homes for 100 families, with hilly streets that seem coiled around like a big challah roll. At the edges, the landscape falls away into the vast expanse of the South Hebron Hills, now brown with winter coming.  Nothing seemed to be growing in the far out-thereness, no animals grazing, but it was a spectacular view nonetheless, especially in the morning mist and at sunset.   But inside the cozy leafy planted watered settlement, with playgrounds and schools and synagogues, I was actually reminded of my parents neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo in northern San Diego, though here much smaller, of course, hillier, and less affluent. One other distinguishing characteristic: the settlement has for its nearby neighbors a few Bedouin families in their alarmingly poor ramshackle dwellings on the other side of the fence, at one point not more than a few yards away.

One water pipe leads from the settlement to the village, all its valves on this side. Water is the symbol and the actuality of the tensions in the West Bank.  Many people say that future wars will be fought not for oil but for water. Here the rumbling is already audible. At the table inside the house someone who I know is sensitive to all suffering complained that we were wasting water, and someone else replied Use all the water you want.   No need to talk politics, the air was subtly quietly saturated with it, at that moment at least.

As we walked to the synagogue Friday night Bedouin boys were playing soccer in a part of the fields closest to the settlement.  I was happy to see that.  In the synagogue, the women were separated from the men by a wall.  When asked on Saturday morning if I was going again to the synagogue, I said no, I was not happy behind a separation wall.  My message was perhaps missed in the moment and taken to refer only literally to the separation of women, but I'm sure it was discussed later on. This is the only time I can ever remember being grateful for the women's section.

It was in many ways a wonderful shabbos, with many people who I was delighted to meet, or meet again after a long time.  At suppertime, someone brought an M16 to the dining room and parked it near him against the wall.  Ordinary, I was told.   He is a member of the security patrol.  I discovered, though, that the doors of the house were never locked, and everyone went out for walks alone or in small groups at all hours.  On Saturday everyone napped for a few hours. What really are the contours of peacefulness, and what is the motivation of fear?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

West Bank Notes

Just before leaving for Israel, to join a 10-day learning with Rabbis for Human Rights - North America, I had a premonition that I would not return from Israel. No doubt it was anxiety about the itinerary into the West Bank precipitating a head-on collision with my Orthodox family in Israel. But now I know it means that my life's preoccupation will never leave Israel. My attention has been permanently bonded, right now in sorrow because of the daily injustices we witnessed and the understandable fear on both sides, hopefully in exuberance as well by the end of the trip, because those two can exist together. It remains to be seen what of my art will be clearly about this heart-breaking conflict, and what part submerged, felt only by myself.

Of course we grouped together on the first evening for introductions. The next morning we were off to a Palestinian farm in the West Bank near a village called Sinjil to help plant olive trees. I was a little wary of this when I first saw it on the itinerary, as I didn't come here for eco-tourism. How sweet, planting trees. But in fact the Palestinian farmers request a Jewish or at least sympathetic presence when they plant, cultivate and harvest, and have been doing so for years, as the Jewish settlers who live on the hilltops above them sometimes raid the planting and then the harvesting, doing damage not only to crops but to tractors and, often, farmers. The army is/was there to protect Jews. Rabbis for Human Rights, when they began, had a staff of two or three and during the harvest came out every day, and now there is a continual presence of volunteers and human rights groups. RHR also went to the courts (they say repeatedly that their best tools are Israeli democracy, to try to insure its application to everyone). The Supreme Court finally ruled that the army must protect the Palestinian farmers, and their crops, must prevent vandalism on the part of settlers, and must bring the vandals to justice. There has since been some progress in the protection part, but the “vandals to justice” part doesn't seem to be happening.  Anyway it was an extraordinary experience, and at lunchtime we sat under some almond trees and the farmers brought us fresh felafels, the best I've had so far (out of many).

That afternoon we went to East Jerusalem, first to Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood where the tenants are slowly being evicted and Jewish settlers are moving into those houses. It isn't clear who owns the houses. Also, in all fairness, Palestinians have not been paying rent in many cases for protest reasons, but it isn't clear why they have a lesser claim than those being moved in. On one street there was a house with two sides. A Palestinian family lived in one side and a Jewish family in the other. They had to enter through the same tiny courtyard. On one side was a banner in Arabic proclaiming revolution. On the other side, maybe 5 feet away, was a sukkah with a plywood wall, which said things like “Left wing scum” and “Arabs get out”. Over the little fence in the neighboring courtyard, an older Palestinian women was up on a ladder slapping olives (or almonds) out of a tree to the ground, who stopped to shout to us her very angry version of what was going on. Arik Ascherman, a founder of RHR, was with us, and he is well known in these parts, probably in most of the West Bank, and infamously in the rest of Israel.

We went to another neighborhood called Silwan, and also “City of David” (believed to be the site of David's original Jerusalem), where there is a huge excavation going on. The Palestinians believe that the excavation is causing cracks in their houses and this seems to be mostly true, though probably some cracks were there before the excavation. The neighborhood is divided, Palestinians and Jews, and the garbage collection and general state of city services on the Palestinian side is noticeably deplorable. There is a Jewish information center, so the Palestinians started their own, and tiny and poor though it is, it provides some refuge for children who are otherwise developing in hatred and rage or in frustrated resignation.

Next day, up at 5, bus to checkpoint Qalandia into Ramallah, with a member of Machsom Watch, which has been a presence at the checkpoints for 15 years in an attempt to curtail some of the worst abuses by some soldiers. They have met some success. Ordinarily 5000 people pass through this checkpoint every morning on their way into Jerusalem for work, school ,and hospital.  But it was a Muslim holiday, so no children and far fewer workers, maybe 1000, were passing through. We passed through easily coming out from Jerusalem. Picture going to New Jersey over the George Washington Bridge. Then picture coming home through the tollgate. The army only cares about people entering Jerusalem. Here we see a very bleak arrangement of concrete and metal. The Palestinians, almost all men, must line up in a long narrow cage-like corridor with a turn-style at the end. Great pushing and shoving at the end of the line, though I don't know why, maybe frustrated sport, as they do this six days a week, starting at 5 a.m., in order to get to work on time. Every few minutes there is a whistle and three people get through the turn-style only to line up at the next corridor. Eventually people come to the “check-out” lines and spread out, into still more lines with turn-styles, and when they are through they must show permits and identification, which has information coded on metal strips. Children under 12 must bring original birth certificates every morning. Ages 12-16, identification, and over 16, permits, the getting of which is another story entirely. We were permitted, through Machsom's relations with the head of security, on the “humanitarian” line, which closes at 6:30 a.m. If a pregnant woman goes into labor and must get to a hospital in Jerusalem and it's later in the day, or any other emergency, one must first get a special permit, get a ride to the checkpoint, be carried by stretcher through the checkpoint, where an ambulance is hopefully waiting on the other side. Several stories of maternal and infant deaths. Our guide, veteran Machsom member Hannah Barag, had lots of painful stories to tell.

We are finally on our line, and we look at our watches. On this quiet morning, a holiday, with no children, no sick people, relatively few workers, it takes each of us 45 minutes to get through this last turn-style to have our passports checked. Imagine the delay, mayhem, humiliation, frustration on an ordinary day.

I'll only report here that the rest of the day included a wonderful visit with Dr. Melila Hellner-Eshed for study in preparation for our later visit to the Tomb of Rachel, for which you can never be prepared. That's for another writing. Maybe I'll name that writing “Tombs”. After visiting the tomb, we went then to Bethlehem, had some guided walks, including one through the refugee camp Deheisha established by the UN in 1954, also another story, but you should read about it in David Grossman's “The Yellow Wind”, which I've heard brought many skeptics and thousands of previously uninterested Israelis into the social justice camp. It's an incredible book. We stayed that night and the next in private Palestinian homes in Bethlehem, two of us with a family. The families were mostly middle class Christian Orthodox Palestinians  living in substantial homes. We all reported varying degrees of interaction, and though I felt my family and I enjoyed each other's company very much, very little was exchanged in regard to their perceptions of the Palestinian “situation”. The topic of water came up (the Arabs in the West Bank outnumber the Jews by something like 5 to 1, but have available to them 1/5 of the water) but it was met by a nod of recognition only, and the family went to great lengths to include abundant water in their hospitality. Being shut out of Jerusalem was their greatest concern, it being just too difficult to get a permit to pass through. 
On the day of the second sleep-over night, Hebron, and after lunch, the Cave Dwellers of the South Hebron Hills. 

Hebron and South Hebron Hills. Four or five heart-wrenching chapters in my forthcoming book, and some sort of summary soon in this blog.   Those using the words "apartheid" and "ghetto" are likely referring to Hebron. On the way from the first, where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, to the second, in the wilderness, we passed a settlement close by some Bedouin dwellings. This weekend I'm visiting people who live at this settlement, and though we've agreed not to talk politics, we have not agreed not to talk religion, and here there is a very fine, if any, line. I hope just to listen. When talking about anything else, though, I have a lot of affection for them.

I have to stop here, and I've barely scratched the surface. I'll write it all up in pieces.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Things last week were really at loose ends, all of a sudden everything went on the blink (including me, my blood pressure was way too low).  Lost tax return, fridge dying, voice mail not working.  Now things are starting to right themselves, not the fridge, though, too bad, I don't relish buying a new one.  But two watches that I bought for my birthday in Cheap Joey's tschotchkele store, which stopped running half an hour after I bought them, suddenly sprung to life and are soldiering on.  My long ago painting teacher, the artist Joseph Stefanelli, liked to say, Where there’s still life there’s hope.

 Blue Teapot, oil on paper, 5" x 7"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My favorite thing to do is to wait. I’m never doing nothing. I’m busy waiting, quite busy. For example, the other day I was on the bus reading, when, at a normal bus top, the driver stood up and announced she was taking a personal break. We could stay on the bus, or get off and get on the next one coming, and she’d be back in 5 or 10 minutes. Everyone else got off the bus. For me, bliss. I am freed from all responsibility of time. I am just there, with a good book, always. It’s why I love to travel by train or plane (or bus). I am given, or have taken, a gift of time that is mine without fault.

The driver returned in ten or twelve minutes, I have no idea how long, I didn’t time her. I thanked her.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Yom Hashoah

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

The French Children of the Holocaust lists all the children who were deported from France to death camps, or who died in France.

Convoy 86 (Children who died in French internment camps or who were killed in France)

Rose Adel. Born, July 23, 1941, in Rivesaltes. Died September 19, 1941, Rivesaltes.

Wasil Zwyr. Born October 10, 1940, in Albi. Died May 22, 1941, Rivealtes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Thoughts About Goldstone:
And while I'm still mostly non-verbal, Intersections::

Lines, geometries, little bits of necessary text.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Catch Train

My calendar has this entry for Sunday, April 3, at 4:30 - "Catch train."
I wonder where I'm going.


                                  Small House Uncertain Walls, 11" x 18" x 18",
                                         rolled newsaper, Hebrew and Arabic

“Yiddish” is the Yiddish word for Jewish, so Yiddishkayt means Jewishness, not necessarily as it relates to speaking Yiddish, the language.

At the coming meeting of my Jewish Women Artists group, we will be speaking on this topic: “Is there something in our DNA which compels us (or not) to express our Yiddishkayt in our art? (or close, we are each free to go off on a tangent if we wish, within an informal boundary). But I can speak directly to this. I am Jewish, a woman, an artist in equal measure, separately and inseparably. Yiddishkayt is so fastened to my bones that (probably) no recent work of art that I create escapes its influence, and if it isn't apparent, it’s just under the surface. My need to put at least one single aleph or beys into the lines somewhere begins at the inception of the piece and is there for the duration.

My paper sculptures are clear about this. If they contain Hebrew and/or Yiddish and/or Arabic they are satisfying, and if not, something seems missing - though not to observers, as other, formal issues are addressed too in these works. My older works were content with other languages. My Yiddishkayt seems now to be intensifying daily, and I can no longer avoid it.

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Wisconsin, Tea, about these I certainly have opinions, but if I am slightly off in the current pool of information, I’ll just listen. But Israel and Gaza and the West Bank, about these I must know (but cannot) everything happening, every opinion on all sides, so that I can make a fair statement (which always seems to need adjustment). And this is what goes into my current sculpture, this great longing for resolution, this mind-bending conflict of emotions, which nevertheless I address quietly, with straight lines, squares, and big airy spaces, in the hope of bringing some peace at least to myself, a somewhat Buddhist idea possibly.

Please see my previous posts:  Alphabets of the Middle East (Feb 11, 2011), and Works of Paper (Jan 18, 2011).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mary Floresta

Mary Floresta, age 26, born in Italy, married, mother of one child, leaped to her death from the 9th floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, March 25, 1911, as fire raged and all but one exit were locked, and the one was no longer accessible.  Fire nets below didn't hold.  From the time the fire started until it was put under control by the fire department, 20 minutes had passed and 146 were dead.

Dialog with the Weaver, oil pastel over acrylic

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gloom to Laughter

                                     Journal Entry on a Wind Swept Day,
                                      water color crayon, oil pastel, pencil
                                                      14" x 19"

Monday, March 21, 2011


For some reason, time isn't passing.  It's hardly later than it was an hour ago.  I can do it all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More about lines, and space

In two dimensions, on a canvas or on a wall or on paper, you start out with a solid, although it may be paper thin.  Lines are on it, they are not IT.  I want to capture space when I work in 3-D, Fred Sandback being my idol here.  But unlike Sandback, for most of my work I have had another idea, a concept that goes along, a story attached, like in House Divided at the side.  I've been using rolled newspapers of particular languages because rolled newspapers of random languages make no sense to me, why use newspaper?  But actually rolled newspaper is quite beautiful.  English will do, or Yiddish, the two languages I speak, and maybe they don't have to have a story.  I want to capture space.  Geometry is very meaningful to me, and beautiful as well, though wasn't to Sandback, at least that's what he said.  I am speaking in unvoiced language, including any system that conveys wordless meaning.

                         All that I know and All That I Want 5, water color & pencil, 10 x 16

Of course it is very possible to depict deep space in a painting or drawing.  But when I draw, I acknowledge that the lines are on a solid thing.  Space does not pass through.  So line becomes something else entirely for me, though line is always the start of anything I do, often in the form of text, even when in the end it's no longer visible.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

International Women's Day and Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire

I didn't even know it, and only one student in my Yiddish class knew that Tuesday was International Women's Day, which our teacher, Kolya, spoke of at length.  Here we just know about Women's History Month, or I just know, my big confession, though about the Month I know very well.  The day was established March 8, 1911, and so Tuesday was the 100th anniversary.  17 days later was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, March 25, 1911, which we remember with a procession and many events around the city, both Friday the 25th and Sunday the 27th.  Here's info;

I'll be in the procession, starting from Union Square at 10, carrying a banner with one of the names of the 146 victim.  Events at Washington Place and Greene street, where the factory was, start at 11, music followed at noon by speakers.

The sparks of that fire ignited the great movement for social justice, women's rights, and workers' rights.  And yesterday the Wisconsin Republicans found a way to pass their anti-collective bargaining law. 

And you who philosophize disgrace, and criticize all fear.  Bury the rag deep in your face, for now is the time for your tears.  Bob Dylan.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Visual journal, Journal in space

Some of my blog posts will now be the next in my continuing series of visual journals, where I write and then obscure or obliterate, with line and color, perhaps an edge of a few letters dangling off the sides. In the case of blog posts, I’ll just write, and the continuity with previous visual works is that I will not tell anyone. I told some people when my posts were more like artists' statments (you, perhaps, unless you stumbled on it). With “labels”, perhaps people will come who are looking for something else entirely.

I may not be able to spill my heart completely, in which case I will onheybn tsu shraybn azoy, af yidish, zoln di vos farsheyn yidish nokh leyenen. Anyway I always wanted to write in Yiddish, only Yiddish in fact. Then if I want to say something very personal, or if I just feel like it, װעל איך שרײַבן אױף ייִדיש מיט העברײיִשע אותיות.

Or I will come full circle.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Neverland Lost, at Foley Gallery

There is a wonderful show at Foley Gallery, 548 W. 28th Street.  Neverland Lost: a Portrait of Michael Jackson, photographer Henry Leutwyler.  Most are single dazzling objects on a black background, but one very poignant photo is a chair, a throne really, sitting in a warehouse, waiting to be shipped someplace or just waiting.

Women and Unions

Friday the snow had gone, but so had the sky, and nothing taller than a young tree was visible. The morning rainy gray was dismal, but in the late afternoon the gray had softened to something silkier, a Manhattan silver light, and walking to the store for milk felt like it was beyond here, someplace where they hadn’t yet forgotten the smell of cool fresh air.

But Saturday!

First off, 11 a.m., Robin Berson and I went to the rally in the sunshine for Wisconsin at City Hall Park, at least 10,000 people, and no news coverage at all, lest the simmering unspoken longing for unions be given a spark. It’s getting its spark, not to worry. Things will be happening. Thank you, Tunisia, thank you Egypt. Thank you Democratic senators who walked out in Wisconsin. Thank you labor movement that created a middle class in the United States and gave hope and sustenance to untold millions.

1 p.m. to another huge rally, in Foley Square for Planned Parenthood, women’s health and reproductive rights, concern for babies AFTER they are born. The cost of caring for premature babies will now far out-strip the federal money allegedly saved. We'll return to dangerous illegal abortions, as many as are now safe. Who or what have we become in this country?

Sunday, today, so relevant to both those rallies, RB and I went to the Shirtwaist Sewing Circle, organized by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. I heard about it from Susan Dessel, who heard about it from her friend, who read about it…. Imagine if Triangle had had a union instead of a sweatshop. There were, I don’t know, 25 people in this wondrous house in East Harlem, cutting, sewing, decorating, drawing, gearing up for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Triangle fire, March 25th. Unions, women’s rights, the week-end. (17 men too among the 146 victims of the fire). Here’s the website:

I have no drawings about any of these things, but many about things toppling, barely holding on.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Voyager 2

I feel like Voyager 2 writing this blog, just hurtling through space, sending back messages, read by a couple of people looking for something, not necessarily what I send.  Is there one that flew too far, out of range, and keeps on traveling, and nobody knows where it is?

Alphabets and the Middle East

The current gripping situation in the Middle East reflects a focal point of my work for a long time, Israel and Palestine. I am squarely in the “progressive” contingent here, but I correspond with a “settler” (who does not, of course, use that term), because I really want to find out the truth, get an accurate picture, which I’m not sure we get, either one of us. My correspondent is not altering my position so much as whetting my appetite for facts, for a real assessment of the myriad events and policy enforcement decisions that I hear about from “my” side. I’m now reading “his” side, too, and I hope he reads what I send him. I want a more balanced view of things, but mostly, of course, I want peace, and a just society in Israel. In this piece, Model for a Gazebo, Hebrew and Arabic newspaper, (2005), there is a tentative meeting of the two sides. (One image to the side here is Model for Two Houses, in Yiddish and Polish, speaking really about Polish people who hid Jews during WWII.)

In my blog of January 16, I talked about the importance that I place on language. Actually my thoughts are more basic than that, as I have long been interested in the letters themselves, of several alphabets that are known, and one that I made up. My very first sculpture was called Note of the New Alphabet, sensing the parallel rhythm in music and in speech, a sort of unvoiced form of speaking. At that time I was making up letters of a mysterious alphabet and writing stories in it. Somehow I could follow the story, without verbalizing, even bursting into laughter from time to time!

I also spoke about shelter in the January 16 blog. The word “House” for me has many meanings: sanctuary, cloister, shelter, home, private place. These ideas, writing/alphabets/language and shelter/house/room/space, are the basics on which I build sculptures or make works on paper. It all came together in my MFA thesis presentation  built entirely of elements representing the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, .  

House: בּיּתּ,   cherrywood, poplar, cedar, pine, 20' x 17' x 8'h (2002).
Phoenician was the first real alphabet, with 22 letters, such that words were composed of letters representing sounds, rather than glyphs representing objects. Early on, though, most of the letters also retained a meaning as a symbol. Phoenician "beth", the second letter, originally did represent "house", and I find that very interesting, as "beyt" in Hebrew also symbolized "house". The modern word for house, bayit, (“by-it”) is spelled the same way as is the letter when you find it in the dictionary, בּיּתּ. This gave the title of my thesis an added dimension. Arabic also derived from the Phoenician, and the second letter, ba, ب‎ , has a similar history: "house" in Arabic is also "bayit".

                                           Shelter 1                   Shelter 2

In these drawings, shelters/vessels are stacked on a new symbol, a “house” made of the Phoenician, Hebrew,and Arabic second letters: beth, beyt, ba. They are colored pencil on black board, 20" x 15"

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Works of Paper

Newspapers are the voice of a particular community. Along with general news, they express the point of view, opinions, and news of interest to that particular community, in its own language. They list opportunities, possibilities, social events, births and deaths, the totality of a given population's interests. They either connect people to the larger discourse, or insulate them from other communities.

 So Far, Hebrew, Arabic, and Yiddish

I see a newspaper as a proxy for the people whose political or social issues I wish to address. In these works, I use newspapers in languages that are specific to the idea of the piece. Though I acknowledge the dark circumstances in the conflict or social situation I refer to, rather than express graphic details or battle scenes, I present the conflict through an elusive hope for resolution, or empathy for no resolution, or homage to a bright spot in the middle of calamity. Examples are House Divided which is all in Arabic, and Model for Two Houses, in Polish and Yiddish, which is about one people sheltering another during the Holocaust.

The concept of shelter is central to my work. I use clean lines and open spaces in a form that suggests both shelter and exposure, or room to think. I choose the pages carefully for the colors, often in advertisements, and use those colors, or intentional black and white, as a formal element of the work as well as commentary.

I am very excited to be working again with rolled newspaper, a medium that I started using in 2004, that satisfies my art making both in terms of message and formal characteristics. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My first day blogging

It's very early in the morning.  I've just made this blogspot, under the tutelage of Marilyn Banner, whose work I greatly admire.  I'll be back later to start actually saying something.