By Tanya Fredman / Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod
I walk up the white stone stairs to begin my day as an educator at the Mishkan Museum of Art in Kibbutz Ein Harod, Israel, and a graceful flock of pelicans catches my eye. The birds arc through the sky, making their yearly pilgrimage south to Africa in search of warmer weather. Here in northern Israel, this is the telltale sign of winter’s approach, not the crisp golden leaves and dazzling reds and yellows that crown the Berkshire hills. Though worlds apart in some ways, Kibbutz Ein Harod’s Mishkan Museum of Art and the Berkshires community share a tremendous amount in spirit.
Hanging above the entrance to my family’s small Kibbutz home — a short distance from the Jordanian border — is a hand-painted wooden sign that reads, in delicate letters on a painted pristine lake, “Welcome to the Berkshires.” “Why?” our friends and neighbors ask. “What are Berkshires?” ask our fellow Kibbutz members.
I moved to Israel 11 years ago with my husband, Len Pader, who spent his summers since childhood in the Berkshires. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and we met in college at Brandeis University. I remember the first time he took me to visit his family in Lenox. As we pulled off the Mass Pike, enveloped by blue-green hills, he turned to me and said, “Welcome to the most beautiful place on Earth.” As an artist and art educator, I immediately fell in love with the way nature, art, and community seamlessly blend into one another, each only enhancing the other’s exquisiteness. Even after moving to Israel, we knew that we would keep the magic of the Berkshires in our lives, and are lucky enough to return often to visit family and bring our three children to explore the forest of sculptures at the Mount, move to the beat of dancers at Jacob’s Pillow, picnic on the lawn at Tanglewood, and be mesmerized by exhibits at the Clark, Mass MOCA, and so much more.
My family and I flock between our life in northern Israel – with my role as an art educator at the Mishkan Museum, our Kibbutz Shluhot community, my children’s school, and my husband’s work – and our families in the US. I often feel not unlike the migrating pelicans, as poet Leah Goldberg wrote in her poem “Pine”,
Perhaps only migrating birds know -
suspended between earth and sky -
the heartache of two homelands.
In the Partnership2Gether connection between the Berkshires community and the Afula-Gilboa region in Israel, and specifically with the museum, I found a bridge between two worlds. I first became involved with the partnership in 2018 when I participated in Project ZUG, an artistic collaboration that paired BBerkshires artists with artists in the Afula-Gilboa region to learn together from the Book of Psalms and create artwork inspired by the texts. I learned over Skype with Berkshires artist Jeff Kramer and together with the other ZUG artists, we exhibited our work in the foyer gallery of the Miron Sima auditorium at the Mishkan Museum of Art in October 2018. That initial connection between the Berkshires and the Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod has led to a growing number of collaborations and a beautifully developing partnership.
The Mishkan is the beating heart at the center of the broader community. As the largest art museum in northern Israel, it is a leading cultural center for artistic excellence, education, and enrichment, and hosts rotating exhibits accompanied by research, publications, and a variety of cultural events and seminars for diverse local and national audiences. Museum founder and kibbutz pioneer Haim Atar wrote in 1938, “In the founding of Ein Harod, we accepted upon ourselves something very great for us and for our children…we must deepen the spiritual foundations of our lives, educate ourselves through a life in art, for if not — we will sink into that which is insignificant in life and it will determine us. For building art — is also building the life within us.”
As I pass a portrait of Haim Atar, painted by Moshe Mokady in 1927, during my daily tours with children at the museum, I can’t help but dare to feel a bit of camaraderie. Albeit in circumstances I will never be able to imagine, this pioneer left his home and everything he knew in Ukraine in 1921 in order to build a new life in the Land of Israel. He sought to preserve the memory of and connection to the past while shaping a new world, one steeped in art, for future generations. I believe he too knew the feeling of the migrating pelicans.
In Ein Harod, Israel’s first kibbutz and the paradigm of a social start-up, Atar and other founding pioneers created the Mishkan Museum in 1937, the first cultural start-up in Israel. Theirs is a story of faith in the power of art to connect us to the past and give hope for the future, and of vision and endurance against all odds to establish a museum as a beacon of hope and memory in a new nation. Together with architect Samuel Bickels and politician Aaron Zisling, Atar began what would become one of the most significant collections of Israeli and Jewish art in the world, today numbering 20,000 works. Each of these works tells a story, and each offers an opportunity for connection with the past and imagining the future. As educators at the Mishkan, my colleagues and I facilitate opportunities for encounters with these artworks for children of all ages that encourage them to ask, reflect, and dream.
The Wuerzburg Parochet (Torah curtain) is one example of an opportunity to encounter the past. It is the centerpiece of the exhibition “The Unbroken Thread” currently on display at the Mishkan, featuring rare synagogue textiles from Jewish communities of late 19th century Europe in conversation with Israeli artists working today. Exhibition curator Dvora Liss shared the incredible story of the survival of this Torah curtain with members of the Berkshires community in a live “ZoomArt” virtual museum tour in May 2022. The preservation of the curtain made in 1881 in the German town of Wuerzburg, despite the destruction of the synagogue and the annihilation of the Jewish community by Nazis, is one example of the Mishkan Museum’s dedication to preserving the memory and legacy of Jewish communities who have otherwise disappeared.
The Mishkan’s collection of Chanukiyot (Menorahs) is a favorite among children and adults alike. Collected from Jewish communities spanning the globe, they remind us that despite all hardship we have, we can continue to create sparks of light and spread the light onward. Time and again, Mishkan educators witness how the process of encountering and creating art in the museum allows students to express their own inner spark. Youth from diverse backgrounds find connections with one another. Children who were afraid to speak find their voices in brushstrokes. Youth at risk, teens in drug rehabilitation programs, and children with mental and emotional challenges — all find their own unique corner of the studio and way of expressing themselves. Families come during school holidays and create multi-generational connections by making art together.
The Mishkan’s newest exhibition, on display from November 2022 through May 2023, is a groundbreaking opportunity for inspiration and illumination. "Spirit of Man,Spirit of Place: Artists of the Abu-Shakra Family at Ein Harod’’ is a large-scale retrospective exhibition curated by Dr. Housni Shehada and Dr. Galia Bar-Or, which presents the rich bodies of work of five artists of the same family, exhibited for the first time together in a museum.The exhibit is a collaboration between the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery, founded in 1996 to exhibit Arab and Palestinian art, and the Mishkan Museum. The multi-generational dialogue that emerges from the exhibition outlines a familial and communal existence, rooted in the complex political, cultural and social reality of Israeli society.Exhibiting the Abu-Shakra Family exhibition alongside the Mishkan’s permanent collection exhibition and Judaica wing, which include spaces dedicated to the Jewish historical narrative, opens up an opportunity for a meeting and dialogue between narratives, cultures, and values. Orit Lev-Segev, director of the Mishkan Museum of Art, says of the exhibition: “In the face of voices who seek to close us off, we seek to open. To open the mind, to open hearts and perspectives, to create a pluralistic space for getting to know each other, for discussion, for dialogue.”
The educational programs accompanying the exhibition are vital now more than ever. When the discourse in society seeks to alienate us from one another, art offers us an opportunity to come together with respect. Focusing on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills, the program encourages local Arab and Jewish school children to find common interests and values through art, and deepen their connection to their own identity while developing their understanding and appreciation for another community’s cultural heritage. This encounter between art and people in the respectful space of the Mishkan Museum of Art will create a ripple effect of understanding that will impact visitors’ families and communities and make a significant contribution to the fabric of shared life in Israel.
One of the lessons learned from the COVID period was the power of connecting beyond our borders. In 2021, we collaborated with the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, one of my favorite places to visit on our Berkshires trips. Together with Mishkan Head of Education Development Ofri Gardi-Cohen and Clark Director of Education Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer, we developed “Disruption and Reemergence,” a museum program for teenagers to explore responses to times of change through art in different historical periods and today.
The Jewish Federation of the Berkshires generously sponsored local Israeli teenagers' participation in the program, visiting the Mishkan and encountering artworks from both the Mishkan and Clark collections and embarking on their own artistic journeys of creating change through art. Students use the two museum collections as a platform for exploring ways cultures experience change and have an opportunity to ask questions to peers in the US in a video conference. “Disruptions and Reemergence” continues this year, as do other opportunities for connection between the Berkshires and the Mishkan Museum through ZoomArt virtual tours, resources and art workshops, and of course in-person visits and group programs.
When I leave the Mishkan Museum of Art after a day of exploring with local Israeli youth, I gaze beyond the Kibbutz lawns and homes to the Biblical Gilboa mountains beyond and know that connecting to our past and to one another through art will help us create a better future. And as the last birds make their way from the sky before the setting sun, I am reminded of another set of rolling hills, in a land across the sea, where the sun has only just risen on a community that shares a belief in the power of art to bring people together, to find meaning in the past and make a difference for the future, and that there, 6,000 miles away, a beautiful Berkshires day is about to begin.
Tanya Fredman is an educator at the Mishkan Museum of Art, Ein Harod, and lives in Kibbutz Shluhot, Israel with her family. For more information on the ZoomArt virtual museum tour and workshop and other ways to connect with the Mishkan Museum of Art, please contact Federation or email Tanya Fredman at TanyaFredman@gmail.com.
The image here is "Composition," a 1972 acrylic on canvas work by Walid Abu-Shakra. The exhibit on view is a collaboration between the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery of Arab and Palestinian art, and the Mishkan, one of the Afula/Gilboa region institutions connected through Federation’s participation in the Partnership2Gether program with other New England federations.
Come see the magic of the Mishkan for yourself. This May 2023, join other art lovers in Israel for a one-of-a-kind, behind-the-scenes, well-curated Art and Culture trip on behalf of the Mishkan Museum of Art! Details and registration here: arts-and-culture.forms-wizard.biz/