The Gutman shul

I’ve always liked the Nachman Gutman Museum in Tel Aviv’s gentrified Neve Tzedek neighborhood. It’s small, just two floors, and exhibits just a portion of this well-known artist’s works, many of them related to Tel Aviv and the pre-state period. The paintings, many of them oils, are of subjects that feel so familiar and close by, and I’m not even from Tel Aviv. It’s also in what was formerly known as the Writer’s House, as from 1907 to 1914, the building was used as the editorial offices for the Ha-Poel Ha-Tzair newspaper, as well as the residence of editor Yosef Aharonovitch, his wife, author Dvora Baron, and author Joseph Hayyim Brenner. So clearly it has a familiar feeling to the writer in me.

Why am I mentioning the Nachman Gutman Museum? Because of a happy coincidence that took place last weekend. We were in Tel Aviv for Shabbat with family and friends, and had spent time Friday at the Carmel shuk, eating hummous and buying treats and then hanging out and relaxing. On Shabbat morning, some of us wanted to go to shul, while others were happy to walk on the beach or in nearby Neve Tzedek (it was next to our hotel and is considered to be the first Jewish neighborhood of Tel Aviv outside Jaffa). We knew that there was a Masorti synagogue, Kehillat Sinai, in Tel Aviv. (Full disclosure: My BIL is a Conservative rabbi.)

We also knew that said Masorti shul was supposed to move to new digs in Neve Tzedek, at the new Schechter Center for Jewish Culture, which is otherwise known as Beit Lorenz, an historic Templar building where writer S.Y. Agnon once sat and drank coffee.

But as these things happen, the building wasn’t completely ready yet, and Kehillat Sinai is temporarily meeting at the Nachman Gutman Museum, which is just across the street from the rabbi’s house. I could not have been happier. This way, I could get in some shul, visit the museum and show it to my friends, and be in Neve Tzedek.

We strolled over, enjoying the narrow streets and gentrified but still elegant architecture of the neighborhood. When we got to the museum, I realized that the shul is using a meeting room, but the museum is open on Saturdays — this is Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem — and you have to buy tickets to get in, as usual. Clearly, it would’ve been too easy to go to shul and get to see a favorite museum. So I sat in shul in any case, enjoying the mixed crowd that Kehillat Sinai draws, including some tourists, some transplants and a few Israelis who have clearly returned to religion the Masorti route. And what was most amusing was seeing the odd-museum goer walk in, buy tickets (at the gift shop next to our ‘sanctuary’), and then stick their heads in to the shul to stare and clearly wonder, “What is going on in here?”

To be a Jew, in shul, in a public manner, in Tel Aviv, can be awkward. Particularly when it’s viewable to those who are not doing the same. But the flip side was how right it felt to be using this building for yet another purpose, and that it all works. You can spend your Shabbat strolling, museum hopping, praying or some combination thereof. I felt Gutman would have approved.

Foto Friday – Danny Yanai’s Israeli Walls

Israel is all about walls. Read the daily news headlines and you’ll come to believe that all Israeli walls are either Western or Separation. But Israel has other walls, more modest and colorful, less emotionally charged and politically burdensome. It’s these sorts of walls that photographer Danny Yanai has collected into into an online gallery entitled “Mainly Walls”.

Wall – Neve Tzedek Photo by Danny Yanai

Yanai looks at walls both close up…

Lock – Peki’in Photo by Danny Yanai

And at arm’s length…

Wall – Tel Aviv Photo by Danny Yanai

There are walls that depict a slice of life…

Wall – Tel Aviv Mural by Rami Meiri. Photo by Danny Yanai

A city’s extreme energy…

Wall – Tel Aviv Photo by Danny Yanai

It’s history…

Wall – Tel Aviv Photo by Danny Yanai

Even it’s seamier side… or as Yanai puts it: “Shit happens”.

Wall – Tel Aviv Photo by Danny Yanai

Danny Yanai specializes in documentary and geographical photography. His work is on display at the HP Israel offices in Raanana, and he has exhibited in both solo and group shows. Yanai has an extensive online gallery on a range of subjects, most recently the Kumbh-Mela festival in India. But perhaps the most moving series — and the most heartbreaking — is Baby Sivan Fighting For Life that documents the short life of his daughter who died of cancer last year. Sivan was treated at Hadassah Medical Center’s Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation And Cancer Immunotherapy and donations in her memory are gratefully acknowledged by the family.

Nostalgia Sunday – The Tallest Building in the Middle East

December 6, 2009 - 6:25 PM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Nostalgia Sunday, Pop Culture, Travel 

migdal_shalom_skyscraper 2It happened as we were discussing the lovely Nahum Gutman print (pictured right). My co-worker and I were trying to figure out the north-south axis of the old Herzliya Gymnasium at the center of the piece. Gymnasia Herzliya, as it continues to be known, is one of Tel Aviv’s best high schools but from an architectural standpoint, the razing of the old building in 1958 was a tragedy. So much so that a few years ago, some good souls banded together and put up a gate in the shape of the old building in front of the new.

But back to what happened. “I think that the front of the building is the side of the Kolbo Shalom,” I said to my co-worker. He looked at me and said, “You must really have been here a long time to call it that.”

He then proceeded to tell me his childhood memories of taking the bus to visit the Shalom Meir Tower, the skyscraper that was built on the site of the old gymnasia. Everyone has a story about that building which, for decades, was the tallest building in the Middle East.

It was – and is – 142.00 meters high, 36 floors including an observation deck. In it’s heyday, there was the department store called Kolbo Shalom. A wax museum featuring the great Zionist and Jewish leaders of the era – have your picture taken with Herzl or Ben Gurion! A mosaic mural wall by Nahum Gutman about the history of Tel Aviv – still well worth a visit. And of course, the Ministry of the Interior, where a thousand tears were shed each day, many by me, trying to navigate the red tape of becoming a citizen and staying sane. (I am not sure it worked).

But back to the Shalom Mayer tower! There is a great deal of factual information available at Emporis, a website devoted to tall buildings around the world, and there is a nice Wikipedia entry, that reads, in part:

“50,000 cubic metres of concrete, 4,000 tons of steel, 35 kilometres of water pipes, and 500 kilometres of wiring were used in the tower. The building has a cream hue tile facade which was created especially for the tower and was manufactured in Italy.”

That light color and repetitive pattern make it a favorite photographic subject for Tel Aviv locals who bring out the magic in an otherwise plain edifice that has in recent years been outstripped by high-rises in Tel Aviv, Givatayim and Ramat Gan such as the Azrieli Center, the Platinum Tower, Yoo Tel Aviv — not to mention Dubai, which today boasts the tallest buildings in the Middle East.

Today, the Shalom Tower itself is a nostalgic relic of a time when tall buildings were hard to come by, especially in our little corner of the world. In recognition of that fact, the Bauhaus Center shop has a small-scale ceramic Kolbo Shalom on offer. Order online or visit them at 99 Dizengoff St., Tel Aviv.

The Ministry of the Interior has moved to nicer offices close by the Azrieli Tower but people still cry there a lot.

And if you want to see that pathetic attempt to replicate what was once the magnificent Herzliya Gymnasium, visit the present Gymnasia Herzliya at 106 Jabotinsky Street and look for the front gates.

Cooperative ceramics

October 25, 2009 - 2:29 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Art, Business, General, Israeliness 

Work by one fave ceramist, Marcelle Klein

Work by one fave ceramist, Marcelle Klein

The Israeli concept of cooperative kibbutz living may have been dealt a death knell, or, at the very least, signs of retirement over the last ten years, but the artist cooperative is alive, well and thriving.

For the uninitiated, the artist cooperative, often materialized in Israel as a ceramicists’ cooperative, is a group of artists who join together to rent a storefront and sell their creations. From what I’ve gleaned from my internet research — namely, not a whole lot — there are such cooperatives all over the world, although Israel seems to possess a large number of them. I like to think that’s because of our communal way of thinking, in which the thought is that it’s always better to work together than apart.

In any case, I stumbled upon yet another ceramists’ cooperative in Machane Yehuda the other week, Pri HaAdama (Fruit of the Earth), which features the work of 14, yes, 14, different ceramicists. The collection is wonderful, with many pieces to choose from and at surprisingly low prices.

While I’m at it, I’ll mention two other favorite ceramic cooperatives, Shmone B’Yachad, or Eight Altogether, at 8 Yoel Solomon Street in Jerusalem’s Nachalat Shiva neighborhood, downtown. The other fave is Shlush Shloshim in Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv, on 30 Shlush Street (You can find Marcelle Klein’s work there).

Foto Friday – The Israel Photography Exhibition 2

October 16, 2009 - 3:06 PM by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Art, Foto Friday, General, Travel 

Untitled-1POV, the Israeli Photography Exhibition at Hatachana, the Old Train Station in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek, came out swinging earlier this month with individual retrospectives of works by well-known Israeli photographers. Additionally, there were also collective exhibitions on view at Hatachana — well worth visiting — and on YouTube. These include works by leading photographers, yet-unknowns and news agencies, the unsung heroes of photography in the field.

Last Summer

Israel Sun photo agency

Tomorrow’s Photographers

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