Bezalel Academy, CIA Presidents Discuss Role of Art During War

Tags: Federation, Israel, Overseas, Arts

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Adi Stern, professor and president of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, in conversation with Kathryn Heidemann, president and CEO of the Cleveland Institute of Art, on Dec. 6. Photo / Michael C. Butz


Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

Adi Stern, professor and president of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, traveled to Cleveland to join Kathryn Heidemann, president and CEO of the Cleveland Institute of Art, in a conversation Dec. 6 about the war in Israel and the role of an art school in times of crisis.

The Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Israel Arts Connection organized and hosted the event titled, “Navigating Diversity in Educational Environments in Times of Conflict.” The event came about through a long-standing relationship as the two schools have had a decade-long student exchange program and the Jewish community in Cleveland has long supported Bezalel Academy, first through the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation as the three brothers’ names grace the building on the Jerusalem campus.

“As (with) everywhere else in Israel, the war, since it broke but also now, affects everyone,” Stern told the Cleveland Jewish News on Dec. 8. “There’s not a single one who was not affected in some way. This phrase that sounds like a cliche, that ‘everyone knows someone’ who was affected or hurt or lost lives, it’s not a cliche. It is really the case. It’s really what is happening.”

He said that luckily no members of the academy’s community have been killed, but some have lost relatives in the Oct. 7 attack or the war, and hundreds of students and a few faculty are serving in the Israel Defense Forces reserves. The start of the academic year has also been postponed due to the war, with the hope to open by the end of December.

Despite this, the school community has been mobilized in a series of emergency initiatives led by students and faculty to support the civic society in Jerusalem and the internally displaced from the southern and northern borders living in hotels in Jerusalem.

Such initiatives range from the department of architecture constructing and designing temporary learning spaces for displaced kids to the department of visual communication’s Wrapping Memory project that has raised $250,000 in four weeks for residents in the Gaza envelope through illustrations that capture what the communities looked like before Oct. 7.

“It has to do with nostalgia, looking backwards at the past of those communities, but also it has kind of a hopeful vision to the future,” Stern said of the Wrapping Memory project. “The hope that we will be able to return, to build those communities again, to start again. Which in some moments looks almost impossible, but we need to and we have to believe that it is possible.”

Established in 1906, Bezalel Academy is one of Israel’s oldest institutions and has been around during many wars and military operations, yet Stern said, “I think we all feel that this is something different.” Located in the historic and contested city of Jerusalem, the school also has a community of Israeli Arab students and is navigating how to return to the classroom while supporting students’ mental health and respecting the diversity on campus.

Given the current climate of rising antisemitism on many college campuses in the United States, Stern said it was heartwarming to receive an invitation from the Cleveland Institute of Art to participate in this discussion.

“We would like to believe that our schools have an important role in society and in civic societies – the city of Jerusalem, the city of Cleveland,” Stern said. “And we have the power of healing and a role in the recovery of Israeli society hopefully in the near future. Art is always powerful and has the power of mediating and enabling people to process and to think and to feel, processing their feelings and emotions after such a horrendous event. And we must prove that coexistence is possible, don’t have another choice.”

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