Houses from Within began in 2007 with the aim of allowing Jerusalemites to peek inside beautiful houses that would normally be for the enjoyment of their owners only. The two-day event has expanded to include more than 100 homes as well public facilities (you can tour City Hall or the Jewish Agency), educational institutions (check out Beit Avi Chai or the Mormon Center on the Mount of Olives), museums, churches, hotels (a boutique inn in Ein Kerem, the half built Palace Hotel) and now, apparently, train tunnels (that fits the description of “within” though they’re not exactly a house). The fast train, which will zip between Israel’s two largest cities in an astounding 28 minutes (compare that with the current train which clocks in at nearly two hours), has been an engineering challenge to say the least, and includes five tunnels in total. We were allowed entrance to Tunnel 3A, the second to last tunnel on the way into Jerusalem. The tunnel is located adjacent to a little known monument memorializing the 9/11 attacks in New York, perched on a hill in the middle of nowhere (the murky directions towards the site called for us to go “straight at the T Junction”). Once inside the construction fence, we walked into one of two 820-meter long tunnels. The ground was still rough (the rails won’t be laid until much later) and the makeshift fluorescent lights on either side reminded me of a Dr. Who episode that scared the dickens out of me when I was ten. There are two tunnels to handle trains going in each direction. Why not save money and bore only a single tunnel? Two tunnels make it safer in case of a disaster and would allow the trains to keep running, our engineer and tour guide Sagi told us. While he explained that he was referring to a fire, living in Israel, it was hard not to think about the possibility of a terror attack as well. Another Israeli aspect to the tour: the Houses from Within program stated that only 20 people would be let into the tunnels at a time, and they’d have to wear hard hats and reflective vests. But Sagi took about 50 of us in and there were two similarly sized groups already inside. No helmets, vests or waivers in case a boulder fell on someone’s head (none did). Near the end of the tour, one of the participants asked whether the fast train’s construction (due to be completed in 2017) would be finished before the still-delayed Jerusalem light rail is fully functional. “Without a doubt,” Sagi quipped. Whether that turns out to be the case, I’ll be the first in line to book my ticket. And when we pass through Tunnel 3A, I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren I was there.When our kids were young, we had a videotape they used to love called “Road Construction Ahead” which was all about, well, road construction. It featured hard hats, tractors and lots of concrete. The truth is, I loved it too – I’m a nut when it comes to anything in the stages of being built – highways, bridges, airports. So, when the annual Jerusalem-area “Houses from Within” event featured a tour of one of the tunnels currently being dug out for the fast train line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, there was no question I’d be there.
compilation of the best public toilets in Jerusalem. Now, while such a grouping is necessarily gender subjective at best (after all, Abby couldn’t visit the men’s side of her chosen bathrooms), it still represents an alternative eye into Israeli society. I have to admit that moving to Israel has brought up my own fascination with public facilities. On the one hand, it’s the often-lacking comparison with the luxury of North America. I remember a month back, when my mother came to visit Israel for the first time, she was decidedly less than enamored of the old school gas station toilets (the ones out back, around the side of the station, not the newer “lavish” facilities inside the mini-mart). Still, she has nothing to complain about. A few years ago, I was driving with the family from San Diego to Los Angeles at 3:00 AM to catch an early morning flight from LAX back to Israel. We needed to use the restroom, so we stopped at a gas station. “Sorry, it’s out of order,” the not particularly interested clerk mumbled. We got back on the highway but the next station we pulled into also had a toilet that mysteriously was “being cleaned” (there were no cleaning supplies nearby). After the same thing happened another couple of times, I got the message and found a bush in back of a Denny’s (which apparently wasn’t one of the 24-7 restaurants I remember from my youth). Bottom line: I’ll take stinky Israel over non-available America any day. It’s also hard not to appreciate the lowly Israeli facility after traveling in the third world. Most Israeli toilets flush; they usually have seats (other than a few in the Old City, squatters are a rarity in Israel); any bad smells tend more to the urine spectrum (don’t even think about the other side!); and these days you can even find toilet paper and soap. Here’s one more praise for the Israeli restroom: very frequently, the walls for your stall go all the way to the floor, so that you’re actually in your own separate room. Nearly uniformly (and especially at hotels and airports), North American public toilets have short knee-length dividers between stalls so that you are forced to see your neighbor’s shiny shoes wiggling around (not to mention the uncomfortable audio feedback). So, thanks Abby, for bringing to light the unseen heroes of the Israeli toilet. If you want to go even deeper into the bowels of the public facilities, visit the user-generated toilet site urinal.net, which has literally thousands of photos of the fabled stand up facility from all over the world (I particularly liked the one from the Mir Space Station).Abby Leichman has written one of the most off-beat and yet voyeuristically engaging Top Ten Lists I’ve read in a while on Israel21c. It’s a
Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery, in the Israeli Arab town of the same name, is a small gem, way off the usual museum track, and absolutely worth the visit if you’re traveling between Tel Aviv and the Sea of Galilee…and even if you’re not. The Gallery houses several rotating exhibitions and a permanent floor exploring the history of Umm el-Fahem and the greater Wadi Ara environs. The Gallery’s aim is to bring contemporary art of all types – not just from Arab and Palestinian artists – to an area that has been mostly devoid of museums of this kind. To wit, the current exhibitions include a series of striking portraits of men and women from Arab villages, adorned by jewels and beads glued on top of the paintings themselves, by artist Fatma Abu Rumi; impressionistic images of cityscapes from the Former Soviet Union by Nidal Gabarin, who left Israel to train in Russia; a collection of large framed photographs from Ammar Younis, all of which prominently feature donkeys in often amusing settings; and a playful exhibition of ceramic sculptures by Jewish artist Rafi Munz which adorn the Gallery’s rooftop, overlooking the sprawling town with its 50,000 inhabitants. The Gallery’s biggest claim to fame, perhaps, was the 1999 exhibition of Yoko Ono’s “Open Window.” We visited the Art Gallery with a group of 30 other Jerusalemites and were hosted by 55-year-old Said Abu-Shakra, the gallery’s founder and director who is an artist himself and a former policeman. He laid out his vision for the future of art in Umm el-Fahem. The Art Gallery was founded in 1996 in a 100 square meter space. A few years ago, it moved to its current location with 1,500 meters on three floors. Abu-Shakra has commissioned plans that will expand the gallery again in a stunning architectural design that will hang over the Umm el-Fahem’s main street. Local residents don’t tend to visit art galleries, Abu-Shakra told the group. So the design will force people to pass under the building, coming at least into proximity to the gallery. Abu-Shakra hopes that some of those transversing the town will eventually stop and visit the gallery itself. “We knew the cultural situation in Umm el-Fahem and most of the Arab sector was close to zero,” Abu-Shakra said in an interview with Arieh O’Sullivan earlier this year. “But I’m not blaming anyone. I’m here to build.” Abu-Shakra provided an example in an interview with Hadassah Magazine. He invited his neighbor Yousef, a gardener, to the opening, he explained. “The next day I saw him and said ‘Hey Yousef, why didn’t you come?’ And Yousef said: ‘I did come, with my two sons, but we stood in the door and looked in and when I saw all those fancy people inside with suits and ties, I looked at myself and said, this isn’t for me, and I went home.’ Yousef represents 80 percent of the people here. My challenge is how to reach these people and make them feel part of what we are doing. Building won’t be cheap: the plan for the new museum, which has been allocated a 4-acre plot, requires a not insignificant $40 million to be realized. Abu-Shakra said he’s willing to build in phases. An art gallery in Umm el-Fahem is all the more surprising given the town’s recent, violent history. In October 2000, three residents were killed by Israeli police during riots that swept through the Wadi Ara region. Then, in March 2009, members of the Israeli right marched through the town (under police protection), resulting in clashes in which 16 were wounded. The Gallery receives some money from the Israeli Ministry of Culture, as well from donors abroad. It’s hard to raise money from the local population, Abu-Shakra said, which is struggling just to make ends meet amid severe poverty and unemployment. Some 40,000 visitors came in 2010. If Abu-Shakra has his way, that will increase dramatically. If you like discovering the off-beat or lesser known attractions in Israel, now is the time to visit – before the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery becomes the next big thing.We visited one of Israel’s most unusual museums last week. The
Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Tour de Force? Spellbinding? Unbelievable? They all come to mind. The piece, at its most simplistic, consists of thousands of short film clips, all containing images of clocks and watches, or references to time, edited together briskly into a movie. There’s room for about 100 people on comfy 3-person white couches spread about in a dark space in which to watch Marclay’s creation. But that’s just the start. Each film clip refers to a specific time (it might say 2:42 PM on someone’s digital watch, for example); that time corresponds to the actual time in Jerusalem. And the film runs for 24 hours. Although the museum is only open for some of those hours, there are special days where the exhibition space stays all night for those who can’t tear themselves away. Which is how my wife and I felt during the 2.5 hours we stared transfixed at the screen. How did he do it? How did he find all of those clips, each with a clock, each showing a specific time? Did Marclay watch thousands of movies? Did he have a staff? The mix of film clips was equally impressive, zipping seamlessly from 1930s black and white to modern drama and comedy. Robert Redford was a recurring image during our brief encounter. There were scenes of London’s Big Ben repeatedly chiming on the hour, a gagged and bound man watching the timer on a bomb countdown, clips which started out with nothing connected with time when, suddenly, the camera would pan up to show a clock on the wall displaying the appropriate hour. Marclay uses actual and inserted music to tie the images together; to build tension and release. There are explosions and love scenes, in English, Japanese, French, German and many more language we didn’t hear but were probably coming up once the museum was closed. The result is not only a meditation on the specific times shown via the clocks on screen, but also about how time has changed the craft of movie making. There was also the audience, which ebbed and flowed as time passed. Sometimes it was standing room only; at other points we were nearly alone. About half way through, a large group of boisterous Israeli teens filtered in, sitting on the floor, yelling, laughing at scenes that were meant to be serious. My wife and I almost decided to leave – the group had ruined our more pristine viewing of Marclay’s art. But then the group moved on. Time passed so slowly – it seemed like forever while we were suffering these teens’ disrespect. In reality, they were there for less than 10 minutes. “The Clock” premiered in London in October, 2010, and has since been presented in New York, Los Angeles, Venice, and Moscow. Marclay won the Golden Lion award at the 2011 Venice Biennale, where “The Clock” was featured as the show’s central exhibition. “The Clock” is one in a string of world-class productions that have graced Israel this year. Another that stands out was the performance of Steve Reich’s Trains earlier this year at the Tower of David museum – I wrote about it here. The show closes on October 22. The next (and last) all-nighter is tonight, Tuesday, October 18; admission is free after 9:00 PM. Run to see – before time is out.It’s hard to know exactly how to describe “The Clock,” Christian Marclay’s award winning art installation, which is currently on display, if that’s even the right word, at the