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Roe Green and Erica Hartman-Horvitz  |  January 12, 2012

Connecting through Israeli arts

Israel is often portrayed in conventional and social media as a nation of conflict - conflict with neighboring countries, conflict between tradition and modernity. These messages and images do a vast disservice to the thriving 21st-century nation that is Israel.

One of the most flourishing aspects of contemporary Israel is its role as a source of world-class art.

Art provides a common language, spoken by every culture. Through art we can update the outdated images and expand the lexicon used to describe Israel. The Jewish Federation's Cleveland Israel Arts Connection was created to expand cultural horizons and bring people together in new ways that can lead to greater understanding on many levels.

The Cleveland Israel Arts Connection encourages arts organizations to offer cultural opportunities by Israeli artists. The goal is to identify, enhance, create and promote unique ways to experience Israel's finest - right here at home.

Instead of succumbing to sound bites, tweets and status updates, we can paint Israel with the brush strokes of artist Michael Kovner; view the land through the lenses of contemporary photographers and videographers; listen to ancient melodies updated by Ladino singer Yasmin Levy; experience new sounds from the rock band Hadag Nachash; challenge our minds with the words of author Amos Oz; and dazzle our senses with the movement of Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack and the drama of Ami Dayan.

Through art, headlines can be more than those of war, terror and infighting.

Partnering with Cleveland's leading arts presenters and venues enables us to open the doors to a wider audience from Greater Cleveland. Presenting art where art belongs - theaters, galleries, museums, and concert halls - legitimizes the offerings. Israeli art and culture is truly world-class and belongs in world-class venues.

The Cleveland Israel Arts Connection augments the cultural opportunities presented by others in the Jewish community and expands arts outreach to include all area residents. By encouraging secular institutions to showcase Israeli arts, we are able to reach new audiences that may be unfamiliar with the unique contributions of Israeli artists. We can build on their familiarity with specific arts organizations to introduce audiences to new and exciting experiences.

The Cleveland Play House, the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, Nighttown restaurant, SPACES Gallery and DanceCleveland do not simply bring in artists because they are Israeli, but rather because they are renowned artists who happen to be connected to Israel.

The Cleveland Israel Arts Connection presents art with fresh and uncensored perspectives. As seen recently in "Hugging and Wrestling," MOCA Cleveland's exhibition of contemporary Israeli video and photography, many contemporary Israeli artists embrace the history and spirituality of the land, while others grapple with present-day challenges.

We strive to present these varied viewpoints while creating opportunities for discussion and learning, allowing the audience to fully appreciate the experience. The artists are accessible and ready partners in such activities.

Prior to her performance at The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection sponsored a workshop by Yasmin Levy to explore the history and music of Ladino culture. Visual artist Efrat Klipstien participated in the community-wide Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration during her residency at SPACES Gallery. And bracketing upcoming performances on Jan. 28-29, Avshalom Pollak will speak to audience members about the work of the Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company.

The Federation is also committed to nurturing the next generation of Israeli artists. Through work with the Israeli consulate, international organizations and foundations to identify up-and-coming artists, we have facilitated residencies for young visual artists, theater directors and choreographers and introduced local students to the creative process through master classes.

Our Cleveland Jewish Arts Connection (CJAC) is a sub-group of the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection that creates special opportunities for younger members of our community to experience the arts.

In addition to building strong relations between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities, the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection also provides pure enjoyment of the arts. In the past few years, we have seen capacity audiences at many concerts and lectures. We strive to make these opportunities accessible, and many are offered free or with substantial discounts.

We encourage you to join us on this exploration of Israel through the eyes of its poets, dancers, artists and dreamers. Together, we can present the vibrant, 21st-century Israel that we know and love.

Roe Green and Erica Hartman-Horvitz co-chair the Jewish Federation's Cleveland Israel Arts Connection.
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