Sitting in my air-conditioned office cubicle in Ottawa, eyes closed, it only takes a moment for me to be transported back to the busy crush of Shuk HaCarmel. Elbows extended, I’m making my way carefully along the slick pavement, deftly avoiding camera-laden tourists and impatient Tel Aviv locals gesticulating wildly as they attempt to bargain down the price of whatever produce they are buying. Music of every kind emanates from each apartment window in the square where King George and Allenby intersect and, in the midst of all the chaos and movement, tefilin is being offered enthusiastically to any boy above bar-mitzvah age and within reach. I effortlessly summon the feeling of 30 degree heat with 98% humidity, the smell of Bamba, and the exquisite sound and sensation of the Mediterranean Sea lapping at my feet. Although I have now been back in Canada for nearly a year, the sights, sounds and smells of day-to-day life in Israel have not faded in the slightest.
In February of 2010, I joined Masa Israel’s Career Israel program and spent five months living and working in Tel Aviv. The Career Israel program offers recent university graduates the opportunity to intern in their fields of study with businesses and organizations, primarily in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Having graduated with an honours degree in Fine Arts from Queen’s University, I jumped at the chance to work as a social media coordinator for the organization, Omanoot – Israel Through Art
. After meeting Edoe Cohen, Omanoot’s CEO, and interviewing for the position on Skype, I joined the team and began working on the Omanoot website which was designed to make Israeli art and culture available and accessible to the North American audience.
I can’t imagine finding an internship that was better suited to my interests, training and passion. Through Omanoot, I was able to meet one-on-one with talented Israeli artists from across the country and talk to them about where their work comes from and what motivates them to create. As an artist myself, I felt a kinship with many of these photographers and painters. Their intense need to communicate visually when words had failed them resonated with me in an unexpected way.
The drive that Israeli artists have to create, to be seen and to be heard is nothing short of amazing and the art borne out of this desire speaks volumes about lives lived in a country characterized by turbulence and uncertainty as well as indomitable hope and perseverance. What each of them said, in highly individual ways, spoke to the fact that, in a country where the only constant is change, self-expression through visual arts, music and film is a unique and powerful way to communicate. The more I learned, the clearer it became to me that their art had the capacity to express more about what living in and loving Israel meant than words ever could.
Perhaps this is the most meaningful truth I took away from my time in Israel: that some things run deeper than words can express. Some parts of us can best be understood through the emotional connection we have to them. Although Israel stands as a beacon of democracy and morality in a part of the world characterized by oppression and violence, her importance in my life cannot be fully articulated in the language of politics, geography or history. Beyond words, my connection to Israel runs far deeper – to the root of my identity, Jewish and otherwise.