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Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Name and a Place

Saturday evening, Back in Umm el Fahem

My tour around the country has ended. I returned home to the gallery last night, Friday. It really does feel like home. I am glad to be back, although I thoroughly enjoyed my eight days on the road. It is hard to be living out of a suitcase, staying one, two, or three nights in a place.

I returned by cab from Haifa, another $50 ride. Getting spoiled, I guess. But I was worried about trying to catch a bus to Umm el Fahem, on a bus line Suzi had found but no one else seemed to have heard of. Especially on a Friday, when transportation stops early, although the time it stops seems to vary. The cab was well worth it to me, and I wound up having a very interesting discussion along the way with the driver. More about that later.

Now I want to backtrack for a bit, to Jerusalem and the two museums I visited there, plus my stay in Nazareth, and then Haifa. Not sure I will get to all of it tonight.
This trip to Jerusalem, I did not even enter the old city. I had wanted especially to visit Yad Vashem, the well known Holocaust Museum. But before I went there, I went to the Museum on the Seam, which a couple of people had recommended to me. It’s a kind of off the beaten track place from the many famed places in Jerusalem. I don’t know how many tourists make it there. I don’t know how many locals do, either. Later, when we drove past it on our way out of the city to the Dead Sea et al, d and I mentioned it to Alon, he was not familiar with it. Of course, he also mentioned to me, later in the day, that I seemed very concerned about issues of conflict. Which really took me for a loop. I guess I assumed that everyone in Israel did. But perhaps when it’s a constant part of your existence, it isn’t necessarily forefront in your mind.

The Museum on the Seam, at any rate, describes itself as a socio-political art museum. The name comes from the fact that it is literally on the line of what once separated Israel and Jordan, and now divides East (Muslim) Jerusalem from West (Jewish) Jerusalem. The house was once an Arab mansion, then later was a military outpost from 1948 until 1967. Elements of the military history have been kept in the museum architecture, although very little sense of it having been an Arab home survive, except from the outside. In the 1990’s through, I believe, 2005, the Museum hosted an exhibit called Coexist, which then travelled around the world. It is from this exhibit that the semi-ubiquitous ( oxymoron, I know, but I liked the way it sounded) coexist bumper sticker comes. You know, the blue and white one with the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian symbols worked into it. Except here, the emblem is black and white. Which makes me wonder if the image was co-opted, or used with permission, or if the artist and/or museum cared. I’ll have to check into it. One piece that impressed me the was a huge figure of a woman, perhaps 12 feet tall, with long black hair and a black sequined top, whose voluminous dress was composed entirely of images of September 11th. (that wasn’t obvious until you came close or read the description.) I don’t know just what the artist was trying to say, but it was impressive. Although I also have to admit it reminded me of two very disparate things: one, it looked strikingly like Cher, the top part, that is. And, the other image it evoked for me was that of Frume Sarah hovering frighteningly over Tevye and Golde in the dream sequence. I know, I’ve got Fiddler on the Brain, what can I say, it’s embarrassing.

The other piece, the one that truly impressed me, was the first thing on the wall as you entered the Museum. It is called Suicide Bomber, and is in the form of one of those army green Revell models we used to break apart and put together to form a battleship or plane or whatever. My father did the pr for Revell; I used to do a lot of them. So here, all attached on a frame, were the various parts of a body . Incredibly powerful.

And then, the same day, on to Yad Vashem. Kind of a heavy day thematically. But then again, that is kind of true in Jerusalem in general. Aside from events like Open Mike Nights at the hostel, and camel rides in the desert.

Yad Vashem has a Hall of Names, where it is attempted to identify and document all Holocaust victims, a continuing project. The domed room is covered with photos of victims, and there are files containing the documentation and empty files awaiting information. The History Museum which comprises the major part of the museum is in a building reminiscent of a bunker, angled so the visitor progresses through a series of galleries toward a skylight at the far end. The exhibit chronologically documents the horrors of the Holocaust, with many video screens containing the testimonies of survivors. At one point, a young woman behind me patted me on the shoulder, saying, it’s ok. I was startled, not realizing that I must have appeared distraught. I didn’t really respond to her, shaken and not knowing what to say. I looked for her later, finally saw her in the gift shop, and just nodded and smiled.

The museum was crowded, as I assume it always must be. The crowds were bolstered by the fact that there were what must have been several hundred young Israeli soldiers being guided through in a number of groups. Some seemed riveted, some seemed bored. Some of the guides were speaking in English, which puzzled me.

Yad Vashem, by the way, means “ A name and a place.” I just looked it up on

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