Panel Discussion, Artistic Expressions of Contemporary Israeli Identity - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

Panel Discussion, Artistic Expressions of Contemporary Israeli Identity

Main Content
Friday, February 1, 2002

Yaacov Chefetz, artist
Meir Wieseltier, poet
Samuel Bachrach, Israeli art colector
Abraham Lubelski, art critic

Moderator: Dr. Stanley Nash, Professor of Hebrew Literature, HUC-JIR

Thursday, February 20, 2002 at 7:30 pm
Admission free

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street)
New York City

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion will present Artistic Expressions of Contemporary Israeli Identity, a panel discussion with artist Yaacov Chefetz, poet Meir Wieseltier, art collector Samuel Bachrach and art critic Abraham Lubelski. The panel will explore the historical, psychological, and political complexity of contemporary Israeli identity, from the optimistic Zionism of the pioneer-builders of the fledging state to the current angst of a country struggling to secure peace and stability in a volatile region.

This panel discussion is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Yaacov Chefetz: There They Will Try to Change My Name. This intriguing work will be on view at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from January 10-June 28, 2002. Chefetz, a preeminent contemporary Israeli artist, has created a site-specific installation for the museum. Bearing the title of an 1820 poem by Heinrich Heine, the exhibition expresses the complex construction of an Israeli national identity, bridging the cultural and historical legacies of diverse immigrant origins, constantly in flux. Chefetz's work encourages the viewer to think about the transformations that have occurred among Jewish families throughout the years as they moved from place to place and changed their names and other aspects of their identity. Currently, this pattern continues in Israel where many people change their names to "Israeli" ones.

A large wooden wall divides the gallery - the area that is first experienced by the viewer is the outer wall containing fragments of domestic objects, video imagery of the "machshara" (a primitive, enigmatic structure for burning charcoal) and emit sounds from a wall whose identity and purpose are unclear. One passes to the inner gallery space through a doorway inscribed with the Hebrew letters "shin" and "mem," which signify multiple meanings: "sham" (there) or "shem" (name). On the other side of the wall, sound and light-images are be displayed. The images illuminate what was hidden before and involve the viewer in a process of exploration and discovery that reflects one's own journey toward identity. Related drawings are also be presented in an adjacent gallery in conjunction with the installation.

In his essay on Chefetz' work, Israeli art collector, Samuel Bachrach suggests that the artist asks us to imagine the weight of Judaism's nomadic history, the search for perspective on a history of years of fury and moments of serenity, and the role of the artist in fashioning some fragile sense of order and consistency - the "eye" in the chaos of his surroundings. His people's history is the context of his own personal history, and the individual search for a sense of place inevitably poses the universal question, "What will they name us when we get there?"

Poet Meir Wieseltier was born in Moscow in 1941. From 1946 to 1948 he wandered with his family in Poland and occupied Germany. In May 1949 they arrived in Israel, first to the Bet Lid immigrants' camp, then to Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet, Netanya, and in 1955 to Tel Aviv. He studied philosophy, history, and English at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Widely regarded as one of the foremost contemporary Israeli poets, he has published some thirteen books of poetry. During the 60s and 70s he edited a number of literary magazines. From 1986 to 1989 he was poetry editor at Am Oved Publishing House. He has translated novels and plays, among them four of Shakespeare's tragedies. He was awarded the Bialik Prize in 1995 and the Israel Prize in 2000. In 2002 University of California Press will publish a selection of his poetry translated by Shirley Kaufman.

This exhibition, and related catalog and public program, are made possible with public funds from the New York-Israel Cultural Cooperation Commission, a joint venture of the State of New York, George E. Pataki - Governor and the State of Israel, and the Office of Cultural Affairs, Consul General of Israel in New York.

Museum Hours: Monday-Thursday, 9 am - 5 pm; Friday, 9 am - 3 pm; Selected Sundays, 10 am - 2 pm: January 13, January 27, and February 24, April 14, April 28.

For further information, please contact: Sarah Schriever, 212-824-2293.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.