One Family Launches Magnificent Book And Art Exhibit
By Toby Klein Greenwald
Paz (“Gold”) Ben Shabbat is a beautiful young woman with flowing black hair and flashing eyes. She is about to be inducted into the IDF, where she will work as a criminal investigator. Ten years ago, when Paz was only eight years old–“A few days after my birthday”–she was told that she would never see her father again. He was murdered in 2003 in a suicide bombing while standing at a bus stop near the army base where he worked.
“How did your lives change?” I asked. “What was it like to grow up without a father?”
“I don’t know what it is like to grow up with a father,” she said.
Paz’s eyes shine as she faces the work of art inspired by her chapter in the book Longing for a Hug, published by the One Family Fund. Paz writes, “My father loved the sea. I also love the sea. When I am at the seashore I think about my father.” Mixed media artist Rachel Navon created a richly colorful collage on a window frame, including small photos of her own father at the ocean; there are elements of blue, green, magenta, and white, a golden fish and a golden sun.
In the book’s 330 pages, 150 children and siblings share their personal stories and memories of their loved ones, in the most deeply engaging way. Some of Israel’s best-known artists have morphed those memories into painting, mixed media, photography and sculpture. The 34 works of art were commissioned by One Family to raise the consciousness of the public. Hopefully, the art works will also raise money when auctioned off in America in the coming year.
The double launch took place on August 29 at Tel Aviv’s Old Railway Station, recently renovated as a trendy center for art, shopping, and restaurants. There were more than 1,000 people, many of them victims of terror whose work is represented in the book, and watching them was as moving and exciting as the exhibit.
In an era in which the Middle East is exploding, the event was a giant whoosh of love, an enthralling event. The book’s title notwithstanding, there were hugs, kisses, and tears in abundance that night.
As I spoke with Paz, Navon’s own daughter, Eti, approached us, emotional about meeting Paz for the first time. Eti said that her mother grew up with no grandparents on her father’s side, as they died in the Shoah. The sea was always a haven for her. It was this shared haven that connected Rachel the artist with Paz. Navon’s work exudes the past, the sea and hope.
It is only one story of many.
Merely turning page after page of Longing for a Hug–in Hebrew, soon to be translated into English–brought tears to my eyes; I was mesmerized by the breadth of the kinds of people, their locations in Israel, and variety of stories. Many of the names still ring in our collective memory–Fogel, Zer, Gillis, Sabo. The children who were so traumatized are now older; some already have families of their own, have served in the IDF, have tried to move on with their lives and not let the terror destroy their spirit. The book is not about death, but about love and memory.
Chantal and Marc Belzberg, the “mother and father” of the organization, said that it took almost six years to create the book, and two years to bring the art exhibit to fruition. Both were coordinated by Lina Sagi, who said, “This project helped the children process their memories and choose those that will continue to accompany them throughout their lives.”
The Belzbergs’ daughter, Michal, captured the hearts of the public in 2001 when she decided to forgo a lavish bat mitzvah, asking her parents and guests to give any money they would have spent to victims of terror. Thus was One Family born.
Stories Told Through Art
Tali Hatuel was murdered with her four daughters near Gush Katif in 2004. David Hatuel, who was Tali’s husband, is now remarried with four children. He told the audience, “One Family helps us to stand on our feet.” That morning, he said, his oldest daughter began the first grade. Her name is “Techiya”–rebirth. A mixed media mosaic by Reli Wasser depicts a silver bird on the background of golden trees, inspired by David’s words in the book’s introduction, “One’s memories have a mind of their own. . . . In the garden, each daughter took care of her own tree, with love.”
Matan Pachimah was only 12 when an Arab murdered his mother, Ariella, with an ax. He writes, “We were eating cornflakes . . . Mommy was making us sandwiches for school . . . she placed them gently into plastic bags and then into our backpacks. . . . We had these hardcover books and each one of them was more difficult to read than the one before it. Mommy promised to give me a prize when I finished the whole set. When I did, she gave me a glass teddy bear.” Idit Kaplan Shoshana and Yisca Hatab read these words, and created a clay sculpture of a stack of books, a sandwich, and a teddy bear.
Yoram Ra’anan painted a magnificent acrylic work with sunset colors, and a woman throwing up her arms in wild abandon. It is called “Dance of Life” and is based on the chapter by Roe Rosen, whose mother, Ayala, died in a suicide bombing in 2005, when he was five. He writes, “My mother had black hair. . . . I try to remember her voice. I close my eyes and I hear her a little. It was a beautiful voice . . .”
In the course of the evening, the 150 young authors were all called up on stage to receive their books.
Rocks Can Destroy A Life
I spoke with Adva Bitton, a brave young mother who has become a symbol in Israel. She was attacked by stone throwers in March 2013, while driving home with her children in the car. Adele, three, suffered a severe head injury and all Israel held their breath and followed her story to see if she would survive. She did, but at the time, just barely. Now, says Adva, “Adele is making progress very slowly. She can move her legs a little now, makes noises, has partial consciousness; we have a journey before us, we don’t know yet how long it will take. With God’s help we pray and believe. One Family is a place with a lot of hope, which they share with us.”
Adva said about the double launch, “It was very moving, lifting one’s spirit; you see all the action that is behind the scenes of One Family. . . . There is nothing that we ask for that we don’t receive–a stroke of love and a good word and pampering. And that night I met the people who donate, who understand that it goes to such important goals, how it lifts the spirits of people, and raises our quality of life.”
Thousands Of Victims
Marc Belzberg, chairman, says that One Family is helping the families of 3,500 victims. While the government adopts families of soldiers as their “own,” before One Family was created, nobody was filling a similar role for victims of terror. There are specialized support groups for victims of different kinds of tragedies, for example, for children who have lost both parents to terror attacks. All told, there are more than 500 volunteers in the country-wide network.
Tamar Fogel was 12 when her mother, father, and three siblings were murdered on a Friday night in March 2012. Artist Rachel Alter used vibrant mixed media swirls of blue and red, for Tamar writes, “my mother was like fire and my father was like water. Each of them had a presence that was so strong; they had an impact upon you, without having to say more than a few words. . . . There are no words to describe the strength we felt inside when we used to be a family.”
Shlomo Dickstein was also 12 when his father, mother and little brother were shot dead by terrorists on the road in 2002. Mel Carin did an acrylic painting called “Shadowlands” filled with splashes of vertical color punctuated by sketched outlines of people, based on Shlomo’s writing: “On family hikes . . . Abba would march ahead first, carrying on his back the army backpack that I think he saved from the Yom Kippur War. We would walk and sing songs of the Land of Israel.”
The Helpers Behind
The Scenes And From Afar
I spoke with several of those who have been at the heart and soul of the organization from its beginning. Naomi Nevies, chairwoman of One Family in the United Kingdom, said, “I feel it’s the least we can do abroad and am proud to be a financial supporter. We recently brought a big group to London this summer, like every summer, for some respite. We can feel their pain.”
Rachel Berg of Monsey, a founding board member, is hoping to bring the artwork to the U.S. and help launch the book in English there. She said, “I remember like it was yesterday when people like Joseph Telushkin adopted Avigayil Bitton [unrelated to Adva and Adele Bitton — TKG], then living in Gush Katif, whose husband, Gavriel, was murdered by a rocket that hit a school bus in Kfar Darom, in 2000. Two of her sons write in the book; their stories about their father are heartrending.”
At one point, Rachel wallpapered her living room with the photos and descriptions of the victims, and invited friends and acquaintances to come and choose. “People were literally choosing whom to ‘adopt’ based on demographic information,” she says, “and unfortunately, whatever you wanted existed–an orphan, widow, bereaved parents. . . . People wanted to connect in some way personally, so that they knew they were part of the destiny of the Jewish people that was unfolding in front of our eyes.
“You felt like you were in the Holocaust, and what were you doing to help? There was no escaping it; we were confronted by a traumatic tragedy every day. So we tried to connect individuals.
“This book shows so clearly that having lost a loved one, especially in a national tragedy, first of all requires us to pay attention. These people were murdered for kiddush Hashem, because they were Jews, it could have been any of us. . . . It doesn’t end as [survivors] physically heal, or time moves on. Later in their lives, they may have work issues or family problems. Our message to the victims is this: whatever happens to you from now on, we are here. We are your family.”
Lawrence resident Philip Rosen, an attorney who is a board member of One Family, told me, “Whenever there is an attack, whether it’s in Israel or anywhere else in the world, the first thing people think about, the natural reaction, is to say, ‘Thank Gâ€‘d I wasn’t there and thank Gâ€‘d my family is OK,’ but I think, as Jewish people, our second reaction should always be, ‘How horrible I feel for the people who were victims, and their families. And how draining it must be to live with this for the rest of your life.’”
Back at the Longing for a Hug exhibit, a choir of bereaved fathers concludes the evening with the haunting Hebrew song, “Be a friend to me, be a brother, offer your hand when I call, I am your brother, do not forget.”
The exhibit, curated voluntarily by multidisciplinary artist Reli Wasser, will be on display at Tel Aviv’s Old Railway Station through September 29, 2013. v