(Newsletter update 04/25/2018)
Last year I came back home after a long weekend to find an envelope from a NC Correctional Institution in my mailbox. It was from Mr Marcus D. Hunter, a life without parole inmate who murdered taxi driver Abdoelhafiz Hassan Hamed Dowlieb in 2004. Marcus, who had an extremely hard life attached his application for ECN Forgiver's License (pg 14) and asked to become an Empowering Clerk and issue Playful Paperwork documents to his friends. We became pen pals and I helped Mr Hunter develop and have a small income from his portrait drawing (you can send him your photos and he'll mail you back a portrait for a donation). Marcus have shared with me his traumatic life story, the abusive conditions in which he and millions of others are kept behind bars and I have shared with him about my life. I find Marcus to be a sharp, talented and self aware writer and I hope he'll reach many readers in the future. I've sent him a lot of paperwork which he's been issuing to his fellow inmates with great efficiency. Considering my own family story, this new friendship is extremely bizarre, and I'm excited to see where it'll lead.
A few weeks ago I got another letter from another inmate in the same prison who requested to learn more about the Empowering Clerks Network (ECN). When I looked his information up I found that he is serving a 206 years sentence for 'crimes against nature' which included raping a 13 year old. It seems like it was a lot of effort for him to write the few sentences in his letter. I feel a disgust thinking about it and I didn't want to take a photo of it and share it online, as if his actions or the unmet needs behind them don't deserve the light of day. In contrast, when I first found an original Hitler stamp I was somewhat excited to lick it in order to create various comics with him and Stalin - it's much easier for me to find compassion in my heart towards a murderer or even a mass murderer than towards a pedophile sex offender. Placing Hitler on Freud's couch was somewhat natural and easy for me to do, but thinking about helping Joseph deal with his childhood and the feelings he must have seems unreasonable and maybe even impossible. Joseph didn't ask for any specific document yet but just wanted a general information about the ECN. I've sent him a copy of Regulations are Flexible, but what should I do if he decides to apply for a Forgiver's License, Compassion Card, Apology Declaration or other documents? Shall the ECN deny services from sex offenders, or revoke documents of recipients who were found guilty of such crimes? What do you think? Please share your thoughts and I will keep you updated about this bureaucratic process!
I plan on attending a gun show as an ECN Representative. More details soon.
“Ori was an excellent guest speaker in the Art and Social Practice Program at Portland State University. He helped us re-evaluate our notions of compassion and gave us new tools to interact with communities that have different values then us”
Adam Carlin, Director, Greensboro Project Space
See my artist talk and gallery tour from my recent show, the White Men Registry at the Matteawan Gallery at the home page.
"Alon's White Men Registry helped me to develop more compassion and empathy towards white men, which doesn't come naturally to me"
52 years old Latino male, NY
"Yes, we need the White Men Registry because if I'm not going to laugh at sh*t like that I'm going to die"
Voter, White Men Registry referendum
Contact to have a Playful Paperwork / Hidden Fortune Wheel / College Rejection Letter Writing event for high school seniors at your community.
My photos on Google Maps have reached about 500,000 views. The Eric Garner Memorial Bench was uploaded to many different parks and ski resorts and reached some 50,000 views. Feel free to download images of my street art and upload them to random or not random locations around the world (it doesn't have to be where the photo was actually taken)
Coming soon! A letter to Trader Joe's requesting them to increase their prices in order to help me with my complicated relationship with money.
During my army service I had a certain lip balm that had a very specific taste. Even many years later, when I come across a similar semi-strawberry flavor I right away feel like I'm a soldier again, with everything that this feeling arouses in me. I have a similar, or rather an opposite reaction, to the voice of Arik Einstein. When I hear his voice I feel comforted, I feel at home.
Einstein is credited as the first one to create Rock music in Hebrew but he wasn't a great philosopher, poet or activist. I love him not like an idol but more like a friend, a mentor. His voice often accompanies me with me with an advice, a feeling or a story that are usually very meaningful, simple and often wise.
"sitting in San Francisco on the water (...)
It's so beautiful in San Francisco on the water
It's too bad you're not here with me to see,
you'd say you'll never come back..
Suddenly I want home (...)
Give me a piece of the Tabor mountain,
A piece of the sea of Galilee
I love to fall in love with the small land of Israel
Hot and wonderful"
Lyrics : Einstein, Music : Shalom Chanoch
Homesickness. Israel, the sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water and mount Tabor, I still remember how in love I was when we hiked there together (she wasn't that much into me). We had tea on the way down, met some Bedouins who hiked there as well. It was many years ago.
Like Einstein, I also love to fall in love with places. I even managed to fall in love with a small town in upstate New York. I love the mountain here and I love the river and I really love the people here. If I live elsewhere I'll miss all of those, I might even write some songs about them.
The exiled Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said that homeland is like a suitcase. I guess for some it is a suitcase, for some it's the melodies and for some, like me, there is no clear definition of what homeland is. For Einstein, who was born in 1939, homeland was what he called good old Israel, pre-skyscrapers Tel-Aviv, idealism, and some innocent sense that he had as a child and maybe Israel had too. Besides being an incredible performer, that might be what made him so popular among so many Israelis who yearned to similar things.
Israelis don't talk a lot about where they came from. Zionism, the Jewish national movement that was born at the end of the 19th century and eventually established Israel in 1948, intended to bring Jews from different cultures from all over the world and unite them in Israel under the new national umbrella that was inspired by the ancient Jewish state at Biblical times. The Zionist greatest myth, the "Sabra", is the Israeli Ashkenazi native Hebrew speaking male who was born in Israel and is actively building the country from vacuum while structuring the perfect society that will occupy it. The new Jew that would finally have a homeland of his own and would be the mirror image of the Jew from the diaspora.
During the attempt to bring this dream to life languages disappeared, people didn't find their place and some communities are still looking for their common identity. The Sabra wasn't supposed to look back much, like a famous saying of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister - “From Tanakh to Palmakh” - From the Bible to the Jewish combat units. As if nothing happened in between. As much as I know how destructive this myth was for so many people, when I hear Einstein's voice I believe it, like a child listening to a story. A good story, where we are the good guys and we go through lots of trouble until the happy end.
This unique report card was issued especially for me about 6 years ago and is one of the most inspiring artworks I know of and the most precious document I own. I was one of the organizers of a semi-spontaneous community art festival at the "Shuk Makhne Yehuda" - the West Jerusalem market. We invited artists to perform and show their work at night, after the market is closed and the dark allies are empty. For the first time, Many artists and a large audience came to celebrate in the Shuk during hours that it is usually a pretty scary place.
At about 2am, two guys showed up with a big plastic produce container and invited people to their "office" (empty vegetable stand) and had them sit on produce boxes while they issued them a new end of the year report card. I wasn't quite sure what I'm getting into, but being drunk and excited for the success of the event, I just did. First, they asked me if there was any school year that was somewhat hard for me. I remember thinking for a few minutes since I had many years I'd like to "fix", many moments during my schooling years that were full of shame, sadness, lack of self-esteem and true friendships. I've decided to share with them my first grade experience (I wrote about this unusual semi-sexual experience here).
Soon after sharing this pretty traumatic episode with them I was issued a new report card, in which I was described as a wonderful kid, that no one should disturb him from developing exactly as he already is doing. A lovely and creative child who is perfect just the way he is. Besides getting straight A's in all of the classes (both semesters) I was sent into the next grade - freedom, and I wasn't aloud to attend the class of boredom and fixedness. I was described as a child who fulfills his huge potential and that I can deal with life challenges in the best way possible. I got sent early to second grade out of love (and not out of my first grade teacher's issues around fucking) and with faith that I'd keep discovering my true self.
I couldn't stop thanking them. It might have been the most meaningful artwork I've ever participated in and I can't overestimate how much it affected me as a person, a teacher, a parent and an artist. Yes, art can be deep and serious and sad and many other things, but it can also, using very simple tools, make people happy and empowered and explore the boundaries between "art", "loving-kindness", "therapy" and "humanity". I'm not even sure if these two guys considered what they did as art. I don't remember their names but I would never look at my first grade experience the same way after revisiting it with them. I don't know if I still have my report card from first grade, but this report card will stay in my heart forever. I heard a theory that our memory is kind of tricky - if we tell ourselves a story many times, we remember it. If I'd tell myself this alternative story about me as a child, my mind or subconscious might consider it a reality. So why not telling ourselves, sometimes at least, alternative versions of our past?
Inspired by this work, I'm offering an experimental service - if you believe that you (or someone you know) did something special and positive and never got acknowledged for it, or had a bad experience like I had and you'd like to revisit that experience with an alternative version, Alfassi Books can issue a certificate/diploma/report card made especially for you. If you're interested in such service, please email me and we can schedule a video call to discuss that and figure out what needed to be issued. I also starting an international network of clerks who'll issue such certificates. I made certificates in many different languages and Alfassi Books agents are ready to issue them to people who need them all around the world or through Skype. As with the letters project, all certificates can be confidential or can be used for documentation of the project, like adding them to a booklet or to this website, depending on that participant's choice. I'm very much excited by this artistic opportunity. As with all of Alfassi Books services, this one too is based on the gift economy model. If you'd like to issue a certificate or become an agent who issue certificates to others, there is no cost involved and the certificates can be sent to you by mail. You can either choose to help cover the costs of the project with a PayPal donation (click here) or give some of your time/money/talent to another cause you'd like to support.
And if you haven't yet, here's another work that inspired these certificates. Give yourself 16 minutes of pleasure.