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Still from the trailer for Gett (2014), directed by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabtez

Israeli films have made a global impact. Important recent contributions include Keren Yedaya’s Or (2004); Gidi Dar’s Ushpizin (2005); Joseph Cedar’s Footnote (2011); Meni Yaesh’s God’s Neighbors (2012); Rama Burshtein’s Fill the Void (2012); and Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s trilogy, To Take a Wife (2004), Seven Days (2008), and Gett (2014).  All of these have met with much acclaim from overseas audiences; Footnote was nominated for an Oscar; Or and God’s Neighbors both won major awards at Cannes; and the most recent of the Elkabetz’s films was nominated for a Golden Globe. Themes range from the ultra-secular to the ultra-Orthodox, from the harrowing to the comic, from the personal to the universal—sometimes all in a single work.

Israeli films have made a global impact.

Israel is of course at the center of one of the most fraught political situations in history; it is difficult even to mention the literary and cinematic arts without acknowledging that political tensions and clashes often provide pivotal subject matter—as with Grossman’s moving 2008 novel To the End of the Land, and Shani Boianjiu’s 2012 The People of Forever Are Not Afraid; and in film, Yaelle Kayam’s Graduation (2008), and Ari Folman’s devastating 2008 animated feature Waltz with Bashir (another Academy Award nominee).

But one recent documentary—made by U.S. filmmakers Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon (and produced by Lin Arison)—gave audiences hungry for good news about Israel something to think about. Their 2010 film Strangers No More focuses on a remarkable school in Tel Aviv called Bialik-Rogozin, where children from a wide variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and faiths come together to learn. The film, which leaves viewers hopeful for a peaceful future for Israel and the region, in the hands of these wise and loving young people, received an Academy Award for Best Short Documentary.

The film Strangers No More, is available with the purchase of The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel.  

Trapped in a loveless marriage, Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) seeks a divorce from her devout and stubborn husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) in Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s Gett (2014)


Contemporary Israeli Film: A Sampler

 Jerusalem’s Old City, Al Wad. Composite photograph by Neil Folberg 

Jerusalem is a vortex. What might a newcomer expect here? Stones resounding with unfathomable history. An intimidating mix of inflexible faiths and truths. The holiest place on the planet for legions of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. A much-contested hub. Jerusalem is certainly all that. It is also a thriving city, in many ways not so different from other urban hubs: big, heterogeneous, and filled with the unexpected.  

Artists are inspired by the complexity of Jerusalem, where the ancient and the modern are in constant touch.

Here, the ancient and the modern are in constant touch: the glow of laptops illuminates faces in cybercafés tucked under ancient archways. A boy balancing a tray of freshly baked bagels on his head winds his way through a crowd of hipster tourists. Young soldiers in uniform gaze into pastry-shop windows. In the Old City, an Orthodox man hurries down the stone steps toward the Western Wall, wrapping up a conversation on his cell phone. And artists are here, inspired by the complexity of the city’s energy.

Jerusalem is a maze of cobbled alleyways, hidden courtyards, and grimy industrial zones, with countless corners where artists have set up shop. The Mamuta Art and Media Center is situated behind a low stone wall in Jerusalem’s Talbiye neighborhood, in a historic former hospital. The Center provides studio spaces for artists in various media and is a venue for exhibitions, film screenings, workshops, conferences, and a residency program for contemporary Israeli and international artists. The venerable Vision Gallery, tucked into a side street off busy Jaffa Road, is run by our friend the photographer Neil Folberg, whose stunning images grace this project. The Museum on the Seam—located, as its name suggests, on what was once the official border between East and West Jerusalem—presents innovative exhibitions that fearlessly take on sociopolitical issues. And the city is also the home of Israel’s premier art school, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design; its students help keep the creative vibe of Jerusalem young and vigorous.

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design >

Mamuta Art and Media Center >

Museum on the Seam >

Vision Gallery >  

Jerusalem: A Vortex for Artists and Arts Venues

Designs by threeASFOUR on Instagram    

Designs by threeASFOUR on Instagram


One reason fashion is interesting in Israel is the vibrancy and variety of styles. The Israeli Fashion Week showcases work by well-established Israeli couturiers such as Karen Oberson and Dorin Frankfurt, and emerging names such as Liora Taragan and the sister duo Einav Zini and Nophar Machluf, Yoav Rish, Maoz Dahan, Natalie Dadon, and Nastya Lisansky. Although the 2012 Fashion Week was interrupted by rockets launched over Tel Aviv (an incursion known as Operation Pillar of Defense), the Israelis continued undaunted with the event in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Amir Hayek, director general of the National Manufacturers Association of Israel, says, “We see local designers as a means to breathe new life into the design industry in Israel,” he says.

We see local designers as a means to breathe new life into the design industry in Israel.
— Amir Hayek

Can fashion serve a social function? At the 2015 Fashion Week, Israeli designer Yaron Minkowsi draped models in keffiyehs (traditional Arab headdress) that were fashioned into evening gowns and daywear. He was just one of dozens of couturiers featured at the four-day event, including a selection of emerging designers and a show of work by students from Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art.

From renowned names like Ronen Chen and Elie Tahari to, the avant-garde design collective threeASFOUR —if you are interested in clothes, whether classic elegance or offbeat experimentalism, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Israel.

threeASFOUR >

threeASFOUR Instagram >

Dorin Frankfurt >

Yaron Minkowski >

Elie Tahari >

Einav Zini and Nophar Machluf >

Karen Oberson >

Ronen Chen >

Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art >

Designs by threeASFOUR on Instagram




Israeli Fashion Week: A Showcase for Elegance and Experimentation

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Graduate Exhibition poster

There are countless institutions fostering design, innovation, and the entrepreneurial spirit in Israel. Vital–The Tel Aviv Center for Design Studies, in the city’s Florentine neighborhood, focuses on graphics, illustration, and product design. The NB Haifa School of Design and the Holon Institute of Technology both have robust design programs. The august Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem (Israel’s oldest arts school) offers, along with its courses in fine arts, photography, and film, degrees in architecture, industrial design, ceramics, and jewelry design as well as graduate-level programs in urban design.

Design plays a central role in defining local culture and contributes to the nation’s economic development

David Grossman (no relation to the author of the same name) heads the Israel Community of Designers (ICD), a consortium founded in 2004 and representing a spectrum of design professionals around the country. Grossman is primarily a graphic designer: his work often addresses the challenge of constructing a fresh and edgy look with an ancient alphabet. As the only country whose official language is Hebrew, Israel also offers an ideal laboratory for certain aspects of graphic design. The use of spoken and written Hebrew is more or less contained within the borders of the nation, so it is easy to measure audience response to branding and visual concepts

In Israel, as elsewhere, design plays a central role in defining local culture and contributes to the nation’s economic development. It is also an important part of what makes life delightful here.

Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design >

Holon Institute of Technology >

Israel Community of Designers >

NB Haifa School of Design >

Vital–The Tel Aviv Center for Design Studies
12 Vital Street, Tel Aviv-Yafo

Bezalel College of Arts and Design Graduate Exhibition Posters

Israel: A Test Kitchen for Design

Shenkar College's Instagram feed

Israel is a land of pragmatic innovation. It comes at you from all sides, and a fundamental understanding of design plays an important role in that fact. Yuli Tamir, the president of Israel’s Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, understands this well.

Shenkar challenges young people to think and create, and that is what education is all about.
— Yuli Tamir

Tamir has a regal bearing and somewhat stern features that light up when she is interested, amused, or delighted. A former politician—among several governmental posts, she was Israel’s Minister of Education from 2006 to 2009 and served as a longtime member of the Knesset—she is an outspoken peace activist. Today, Tamir brings her knowledge of education to bear in a new way at Shenkar. As she said in a speech early on in her post as head of the school:

In many ways, Shenkar is what Israel should be about: a center of culture and creativity that relies on cutting-edge technological know-how in order to produce and reproduce a new way of life: whether in fashion, art, textile, chemistry, technology, or design, Shenkar challenges young people to think and create, and that is what education is all about.

Founded in 1970, Shenkar’s main campus is located in two buildings in Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv. Hallways buzz with the mechanical sounds of 3-D knitting machines and printing presses; in classrooms students give presentations to one another and bear up to critiques. Vitrines showcase recent experimental designs by student.  Everything at Shenkar is about new ideas, moving things forward. As Tamir says:

You think, “Okay, innovation in Israel, that’s the Weizmann Institute, the Technion”—and those places certainly do have a high level of innovation. But when you look at where unusual industry starts, it’s usually here rather than there. . . . We are hands-on. [Here at Shenkar], we are strengthening the entrepreneurial spirit among students, to give them a platform to develop and initiate their own ideas.

Shenkar College of Engineering, Design, and Art > 

Shenkar College Instagram >

Shenkar College: Training Tomorrow’s Creatives

Exhibition space at the Tefen Industrial Park's Open Museum. Photo by and © Vision Studio

One observes in Israel a sincere respect given to creative thinking, which extends beyond the arts and into the sciences, industries, cuisine, agriculture, education, and beyond. It is a famously entrepreneurial nation, and it seems clear that this drive stems partly from the essential need to draw life from a challenging terrain, and from life to draw civilization, and from civilization to draw culture: a basic human requirement.

A museum, to me, is one factor that makes a place worthy of becoming a home.
— Stef Wertheimer

There is a pervasive understanding in Israel that none of this is possible without creative thinking and the inspiration that art can provide. Even some of the country’s industrial parks—hugely successful manufacturing plants—strategically include art museums at their complexes.   

The Open Museums at the Tefen Industrial Park in the Galilee, manifest the “Tefen Model” founded by business magnate Stef Wertheimer. The central museum is as sleek and impressive as any art space in any major city.  It features an art gallery, sculpture garden, industrial museum, car collection, and more—as well as educational and events departments.

While Wertheimer is not an artist or an art collector himself, he is deeply proud of this element of his working community. As Wertheimer says:

A museum, to me, is one factor that makes a place worthy of becoming a home. Schools, education, and security come first, of course, but a place without culture is not worth living in. A museum is a cultural need of the first order.

Art, in other words, benefits both the community and the morale of employees.

Open Museums at Tefen >  

The Open Museums: Filling a Cultural Need of the First Order

Itzhak Perlman conducts "Can Can" and Haydn's Toy Symphony with the Perlman Music Program Orchestra and 40 young Israeli String Players at the Israel Conservatory Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy The Perlman Music Program

“Peace through Music,” says a popular bumper sticker. Well, who knows—it certainly can’t hurt. Music is of course an art of collaboration: an art that requires, above all, the ability to listen deeply and to respond with empathy and sensitivity, with the goal of achieving an end product filled with positive meaning: a viable formula for any kind of cooperation. A number of groups have been formed specifically with a view to bringing musicians together from diverse backgrounds in cultures at serious odds with one another. Among them are the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (under the baton of maestro Daniel Barenboim) and Heartbeat: The Israeli-Palestinian Youth Music Movement. The Jewish-Arab Youth Orchestra is a project of the Jerusalem Foundation, under the auspices of the Louis and Tillie Alpert Youth Music Center. And Polyphony, headquartered in Nazareth, is another common ground for Arab and Jewish classical musicians. 

Music is an art of collaboration: an art that requires, above all, the ability to listen deeply and to respond with empathy and sensitivity.

Things are opening up in Israel among artists: people are listening closely to one another. When Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in recent years, he said that he was excited to encounter so many new young musicians in the orchestra. Their performance of Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 was fluid and powerful, the musicians sharply attuned to their conductor. The mutual respect was obvious, and thrilling for the audience to see and hear.

Adding to the artistic culture of Israel is the venerable Perlman Music Program—a U.S.-based mentoring project for talented young classical musicians, under the direction of violinist Itzhak Perlman. Since 2014 the PMP has been hosting residencies and offering master classes in Tel Aviv for talented young musicians.

Heartbeat: The Israeli-Palestinian Youth Music Movement >

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra >

Louis and Tillie Alpert Youth Music Center >

Perlman Music Program >

Polyphony >

West-Eastern Divan >


Peace through Music

Nihad Dabeet’s Healer (2011), iron wire. Photo courtesy Avital Moses

Sculptor Nihad Dabeet keeps a studio in Ramle, where he spent most of his childhood before being accepted, as a young teen, to the prestigious Thelma Yellin School of the Arts, and subsequently moving to Bulgaria, with a scholarship to study sculpture at the National Academy of Arts in Sofia. Dabeet has remained devoted to his work through easy times as well as rough ones, always staying circumspect. His work plays a crucial role in all this; for an artist, he says, “it’s very easy to go from bad place to good place. It’s more difficult to go from good place to bad place.”

Dabeet’s fascinating forms are hybrids of figuration and abstraction, the hand-wrought and the organic.

Over the years, Dabeet has experimented with various media, including discarded building materials (“rubbish” is his technical term for it), eventually honing a distinctive style of working with thick strands of wire, which he describes as “weaving.” The fascinating forms he renders seem to be hybrids of figuration and abstraction, the hand-wrought and the organic. For the Korin Maman Museum in Ashdod he created a extraordinary life-size sculpture of a horse for a show called Horses and Bulls. Though made of steel wires, it looks almost like a magnificent armature made of fine bentwood twigs.      

For Dabeet, beauty is only a beginning in art: it is “the first link,” he says. “But you must also have persuasion.” He says he believes in finding what is good and useful in even the most trying circumstances. 

Thelma Yellin School of the Arts >

Korin Maman Museum
16 Hashayatim Street, Ashdod


The Remarkable Wire Sculptures of Nihad Dabeet