In honor of Yom Ha’azmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and this year’s 75th anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, this talk by Georgetown University professor Ori Z Soltes addresses the question of what defines Israeli art and when it began to take shape. Is it made only by Israelis—then how did Elkan’s Menorah become the consummate symbol of Israel when he never lived in the state? Did “Israeli” art begin with or before the birth of the state? How does this relate to the opening of the Bezalel School of Art in 1906–and closing by 1929, only to re-open years later? How does it relate to the question of defining Jewish art?
Benno Elkan’s stunning work, overrun with symbolic images and words–drawing in diverse ways from a long history of symbolic language–could hardly be a more significant centerpiece to this array of questions, or more appropriate to the celebration of Israel Independence Day and the intriguing ideas that this day generates.
Image above: Benno Elkan, Menorah, 1956. Bronze, 4.30 meters high, 3.5 meters wide. Gan Havradim (Rose Garden) opposite the Knesset, Jerusalem. Presented to the Knesset as a gift from the Parliament of the United Kingdom Parliament on April 15, 1956 in honor of the eighth anniversary of Israeli independence.