Monday, 25 October 2021

Half a Grapefruit for Dinner

Saba and Safta (the Hebrew names for grandfather and grandmother respectively) eat half a grapefruit each before their meals. It was Saba's birthday and his children asked me to make him a special card showing them at the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table, eating their grapefruit halves!
Safta is left-handed so I showed her on the right, with a grapefruit spoon in her left hand. Saba is on the left so that they won't elbow each other when eating! They are seated at the Shabbat table. It is covered with a white tablecloth, a custom which began in the Middle Ages when wealthy homes began using ornate white tablecloths for festive meals. Two challot and two candlesticks are also on the table. The two loaves are placed on the table to reference the Jewish teaching that a double portion of manna fell from heaven on Friday to last through the Shabbat.
The two candles are lit in honour of Shabbat and in some homes, including my own, an additional candle is lit for each child. The lighting of Shabbat candles has a dual purpose: To "honour Shabbat" (כבוד שבת) and create shalom bayit or domestic peace (שלום בית).
Both Saba and Safta loved the card.
Another customer contacted me with a request for an 80th birthday card for her dad. "It would be great if you could have him wearing a blue button down shirt and khaki pants" she wrote to me. She also wanted an 80 on the card. She mentioned that her dad is a retired maths professor. I suggested adding a few maths symbols in the background and she liked that idea too.
I showed dad in the requested outfit. He is holding the number 80 in one hand, whilst the maths symbols are dotted all around him. My customer reported back that dad liked the card!
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Friday, 22 October 2021

Zadok Ben-David: People I Saw but Never Met

I first discovered the work of the Israeli born and London based artist Zadok Ben-David 10 years ago when I stumbled across an exhibition of his work, including the installation 'Blackfield', at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The installation consisted of thousands of steel etched flowers standing on a bed of sand. The flowers were black on one side, colourful on the other side. Memories of it stayed with me for many years and I have followed Ben-David's work ever since. I was excited when I read that there was to be a new installation at the museum this year, 'People I Saw but Never Met', and made sure to get there at the earliest opportunity.
'People I Saw but Never Met' includes thousands of figures of men, women and children. These are people that Zadok Ben-David has seen during his travels around the world over the last five years - in a market in Kazakhstan, on the streets of Tokyo, near his studio in London, on a beach in Tel Aviv, even in Antarctica - but has never met personally. Something in their presence - a facial expression, or a momentary gesture - caught his eye and made him take their photograph. He then sketched these photographs with pencil and later, by using photo-etching, he turned the sketches into a thin metal cut-out painted in black. 
Ben-David began working on the installation in 2015, adding more and more figures with each passing month. This ongoing body of work, first exhibited in 2016 in Sydney, Australia, now comprises over 6,000 metal figures, some small-scale, no taller than a foot, and others larger in size, not quite waist-tall. The larger pieces are cut from aluminium by hand. The miniatures are made from stainless steel. In the installation, each figure stands vertically attached to a small base hidden under a bed of light-coloured sand, carefully arranged en-mass on the floor of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art's expansive gallery space.
While some families and groupings are depicted, for the most part Ben-David presents isolated individuals. Many appear to be walking or captured standing still, while others are playing or riding a bike. People stroll, take selfies, crouch to tie a shoelace, check their cellphones, hurry on, search inside a purse or set a backpack on the ground for a rest. A woman in a kimono uses an open fan to shield her head from the sun. A boy rides a bicycle, a man looks at an open book.
The thin metal figures are open and you can see through them, allowing for a lot of light. They represent many different nations, cultures and religions. You can identify them only by clothes and sometimes facial features.
Though 'Blackfield' was a very colourful installation, Ben-David has kept 'People I Saw but Never Met' all in black. He wanted to avoid colours, so as not to focus on the surface of the figures. He also wanted to get a feeling of the moment with his figures. People were not aware when he was taking their photos. When he clicked the button, he made sure to turn his head away so that they were not posing.
The results are incredible. Ben-David creates movement and gives life to his "people". The thousands of figures assembled together suggest that we are both isolated yet always close together. I sat on the floor of the museum's gallery space for a long, long time, studying and enjoying each piece. It was a brilliant installation.

Thursday, 7 October 2021


My youngest son enlisted in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) back in August. His big brother has been a soldier since August 2019, so now, for a few months, we have two soldiers in the family!
I have explained about Israel's military service before but think it is interesting enough to share again. Every Israeli male and female from the age of 18 who is Jewish, Druze or Circassian (Arab citizens of Israel are not conscripted) is required to serve three and two years, respectively, of compulsory military service. Some exceptions are made on religious, physical, or psychological grounds. The IDF determines a medical profile for each soldier and, according to that profile, decides where to assign the draftees. The highest medical profile draftees serve in the five infantry Brigades, Field/Combat Intelligence units, and Combat engineers. The second highest medical profiles are assigned to serve in the Armoured Corps, Artillery, Military Police, Border Police, and Aman. The lowest acceptable level of medical profiles are drafted into the combat support and combat service support arms, such as the Adjutant Corps, Logistics Corps, and the Ordnance Corps.
The Army calls upon a potential soldier in a letter called the Tzav Rishon, or "First Draft Notice". This letter states that the teenager must report to a certain place at a certain time for a day-long examination and interviewing. After careful evaluation of the Tzav Rishon's results the army decides who is going where when they enlist.
From time to time a public debate emerges in Israel around the issue of exemption from military service in Israel and indeed whether the country should end conscription in favour of an all-volunteer force. In the meantime there is a need for a large army and there is great pride - and of course some fear - in sending our kids off for their national service.
Before my son went into the army I made a special card for him. I showed him in his olive green madei alef uniform. There are two types of uniforms (madim) in the army, madei alef and madei bet. The madei alef is the dress uniform that the soldiers wear at ceremonies and when off base. Madei alef differ for each force whereas madei bet are olive green for all units. I added the Israel Defence Forces emblem and the flag of Israel to the card, along with a tank (my son drafted into the Armoured Corps) and some black army boots. He has been learning to polish them and keep them shiny - something he had never done before!
The Hebrew greeting on the card says Giyus Kal. Giyus means "recruitment," "enlistment" or "induction" and is most closely associated with the army, as in terms like lishkat giyus, or military induction centre; tzav giyus, or draft notice; and mesibat giyus, the party many Israelis throw just before they join the army for their compulsory service. "Kal" means "easy".
Photo credit: Gadi Isaacs
My son may have had a drink or two or three at his mesibat giyus and let his friends cut his hair for him before his enlistment. All the curly locks that you can see on his card went and it looked terrible! Fortunately it has already grown back and he now keeps it short and even length, without layering, as per IDF requirements. He is currently doing his basic training, tironot, and seems to be doing okay. I hope that it continues that way and that his service will be easy, safe and meaningful to him.