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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.

Ori Z Soltes, PhD, teaches at Georgetown University across a range of disciplines, from art history and theology to philosophy and political history. He is the former Director of the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum, and has curated more than 90 exhibitions across the country and overseas. He has authored or edited 25 books and several hundred articles and essays. Recent volumes include Our Sacred Signs: How Jewish, Christian and Muslim Art Draw from the Same Source; The Ashen Rainbow: Essays on the Arts and the Holocaust; and Tradition and Transformation: Three Millennia of Jewish Art & Architecture; and Growing Up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Ceremonies, and Customs from the Bene Israel to the art of Siona Benjamin.

Bet Alpha synagogue mosaic “Holy of Holies”

Dafna Kaffeman, Red Everlasting (installation detail, Ultsira, Norway), 2008

Abraham Melnikov, Monument to the Heroes of Tel Hai, 1930-34

Yosl Bergner, Golgotha, ca 1955

Future events and the recordings of past events can be found HERE.

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