Arts + Ideas

Holding On to a Vision: Bringing Israeli Art Back to the J

By Russell Benaroya, SJCC Board Member

June 21, 2017, was a hot day as we walked up the Maalot HaGardom, the Great Stairs of in Safed (Tsfat), separating the Old City from the Artists Quarters. We were on the 5th day of our two-week family trip to Israel to honor the Bat Mitzvah of our daughter, Maya, earlier that year. Accompanied by our harmonica-playing guide, Yohai, we wandered the city, soaking in the experience.

We navigated down the narrow market, poking our heads into the galleries and shops, feeling the tractor beam of commerce. We weren’t looking to buy anything but just let our eyes graze over the beautiful artwork (okay, we did buy some beautiful Shabbat candles from the Candle Factory). As our son, Shane, was looking for a University of Alabama (Roll Tide) yarmulke, my wife (Melissa), Maya, and I stepped into a small gallery.

Above the gallery proprietor was a striking piece of art that jumped out at me immediately. It was vivid and progressive and Judaic. I had never seen anything quite like it. Set in transparent plexiglass, the piece was alive and meaningful. We thought about buying it on the spot but we were five days into a two-week trip, assumed we would see a lot of art during our trip (we had not yet been to Jerusalem), and didn’t want to hassle with shipping. So we passed and kept walking.

judaic art at the sjcc

We never saw the art in Jerusalem and I felt I had missed an opportunity. “Who was that artist?” I asked my daughter, who supports my quickly shrinking brain. “Tovi,” she responded. I jumped online and started researching and learned about Tovi Ben Herzel.

Tovi is an artist, illustrator, and teacher of graphics and media design. She brings to her art eye-catching graphic design, content, colors, and shapes that symbolize rhythm, repetition, and cycles of life. Her pieces represent moments in the Torah that are symbolized in a very 21st-century way.

I found Tovi’s email address and introduced myself and let her know how impressed I was with her work and how much I would love to bring her work to Seattle. I knew that the SJCC was committed to the arts and I thought it would be so wonderful if Tovi could share her pieces for display with the SJCC. After a couple of months of coordination we made it happen.

I am so pleased that the J is currently displaying six of Tovi’s pieces. Even better, we have worked with Tovi to negotiate a price for her pieces ($999) for which 20% will go to fund the Arts+Ideas programs at the JCC.

judaic art at the sjccWhen the boxes of art arrived, and SJCC Senior Director of Community Engagement Dana Weiner and I opened them, it was such an exciting moment. From a missed opportunity in Tsfat to bringing Tovi to Seattle, this experience reinforced the power of holding on to a vision. And I’m so glad that now we have the opportunity to share Tovi with the local community.

I hope you find her art as exciting as I do and that if you are interested you will support the JCC while placing in your home a piece of Judaica art that will evoke the messages of peace, creation, perseverance, and light.