Experiencing Jerusalem Through the Arts
by Judy Lash Balint
Jerusalem–Jerusalem inspires creative energy—ever since David composed his Psalms here, the holy city has been known as a place of poets, artists, musicians and performers.
Now, a group headed by a few of Jerusalem’s well-known contemporary artists, who also happen to be committed to Jewish education, has put together a new initiative to enhance the experience of visitors to Israel through the arts.
Kol Haot, “The Art of Jewish Learning,” operates out of the basement of a Templar-style building on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem’s trendy German Colony neighborhood.
On a recent Saturday night, the intimate theater-style space was packed with two groups from the US. One, a group of students from Colgate University and the other, members of a Conservative congregation from New York. The visitors had come to take part in LightHeaded: Jerusalem Unwrapped, an original production commissioned by Kol HaOt, written and directed by Joyce Klein. Klein, a storyteller and dramatist who is the originator of many innovative dramatic events in Israel.
The one-man show stars Eran Kraus who leads the audience through many Jerusalem sites and portrays some typical local contemporary and historical characters with humor and pathos. Interspersed with the personalities he portrays is footage of Jerusalem and a clever female rap character projected on the arched stone wall. In just under an hour, Kraus brings the history of Jerusalem alive.
The Kol HaOt concept got its start at PresenTense, when JTS-trained rabbi, accomplished paper cut and scribal artist, Matt Berkowitz and Jewish educator Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz developed the idea as their fellowship project. The two joined forces with Yair Medina, a well-known photographer and graphic artist and Elyssa’s father, renowned Judaica artist David Moss.
The menu of programs now offered by Kol HaOt includes exploring artistic Passover haggadot; a havdalah study and paper-cutting session; a musical workshop on Hebrew song ; a journey into the Hebrew alphabet where participants create personalized letters based on their Hebrew names and a program following a visit to Yad Vashem where kids and adults can express their feelings artistically. To date, more than 65 groups, including the Wexner Foundation, JTS Rabbinical Students and leaders of the Joint Distribution Committee have taken part in Kol HaOt activities.
At a Mapping the Journey afternoon at Kol HaOt, several dozen members of a multi-generational synagogue group on the last day of a 10-day trip to Israel, watched intently as Rabbi Berkowitz unrolled David Moss’s ‘Binding of Isaac’ scroll. Using the colorful representation of the Biblical story, Rabbi Berkowitz taught the dramatic episode and then led the group to tables set up with art supplies where they could each create a visual and artistic representation of their own Israel journey.
For tour guide Shana Wagner Zauder who had accompanied the families throughout their visit to Israel, the Kol HaOt experience was the perfect way to close their trip. “It’s hard to process such an intense ten days,” she said. “Here, through art, they get to explore their experiences and focus on the highlights, and realize what they’re taking away from this journey in a personal creative way.”
It’s all in the motto of Kol HaOt—”Illuminating Jewish life through art.”