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A cultured way to celebrate Israel's 70th anniversary

Jewish schools in the UK are using artefacts from Israel's museums to explore its history and culture in a project to commemorate the state's 70th birthday next year

    Itzhak Danziger's Sheep of the Negev at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art
    Itzhak Danziger's Sheep of the Negev at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

    There are still six months to go until Israel’s 70th anniversary but Jewish schools are already working on a project to commemorate it.

    “Israel 70 — Building Artistic Connections” is the brainchild of educator Nic Abery and encourages children to investigate the country’s history and heritage through a detailed study of an artefact from one of its museums.

    As the founder of the Look to Learn programme, Ms Abery has already pioneered the use of British museums and galleries as a resource for Jewish studies.

    “For Yom Ha’atzmaut, schools often celebrate with falafel, Israeli dancing and children wearing blue and white,” she explains. “That’s a totally valid way to celebrate, but I wanted schools to engage with Israel in a slightly different way to mark this significant milestone.”

    Many children may have experienced Israel as a place of “sunshine and hotels” and be familiar with major sites in Jerusalem such as the Kotel. “But how many will have been to a museum in Haifa or know about Israel’s different populations?” she says.

    Ms Abery has compiled an online catalogue of 45 objects from 10 different institutions, which include the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Centre, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Museum of Islamic Art.

    Each object tells a particular story about the country’s social history, cultural life or demographic make-up. “Artefacts are a vehicle to explore the multiple narratives of Israel,” she explains.

    Each group selects one object and over the course of four lessons looks at its significance in depth. Finally, they will be asked to “create their own response to the object — that can be anything, a piece of artwork, a fashion show, a piece of music, a play, a mural.”

    At least one creative exhibit from each school will go on display at planned exhibitions at JW3 in London and in Israel next May.

    “Some schools have one class doing it, others have three or four classes, it’s flexible in that way.”

    So far 33 Jewish schools have signed up to the project from south London to Glasgow, and from strictly Orthodox to Progressive. There’s even one in Seattle. 

    Objects range from the monumental sculpture, The World Turned Upside Down, by Sir Anish Kapoor, at the Israel Museum, to the handwritten lyrics of the Hatikvah.
    “The museums have provided high-resolution photos as well as background information on the artefacts and the schools are able to contact the curators,” Ms Abery continues.

    In addition, if the children happening to be visiting Israel over the next few months, their families can get free access to the museum to examine their chosen artefact.

    Ms Abery has herself done a live presentation of one artefact from Israel, “Sheep of the Negev” a bronze sculpture by Itzhak Danziger which was completed in 1964 and is now in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. “I did a Skype call for Mosaic School. I was in Tel Aviv, the kids were in Roehampton. I walked around the sculpture, explaining it to them, while they asked me questions about it.”

    Her initiative has been taken on by Partnerships for Jewish Schools and is backed by the World Zionist Organisation.

    “I’m amazed by the response, I have to say,” Ms Abery says. “I’m in Israel every eight weeks for meetings with my museum partners and I’m living and breathing it. Every single object in the catalogue has been chosen by at least one school.”

    To find out more, see www.israel70project.com

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