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.
an observant Jew
but the Gniza mitzvah
in which we are commanded
to bury holy text
when we’re done using it
is very exciting to me
in an abandoned building
in front of the central bus station
in West Jerusalem
thousands of books
Bibles, Talmud, Mishna
laid on the floor
as beds to homeless people
The building used to be
a Beit-Midrash once
My friend Yoram showed it to me
and I would come
tear the book of Ecclesiastes
out of old Bible books
and make all sorts of art with them
instead of Gniza
Ecclesiastes text glued on an 18th century Jewish Musar (morals) book Mesilat Yesharim (path of the righteous) by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzato -
says the Teacher.
2 Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
Recently I made a few attempts to write funny things. To my surprise, it seemed to work. I’m not a funny person, or at least when I tell a joke about 43% of the times it’s too long and I forget the end. Most kids do find me funny though, especially the illiterate ones.
I’m a religious person, in a sense that I find humor to be holy. I find humor as one of the most magical things about life. Like birth, death, love and music its meaning and secret can’t really be understood. It is one of the only things that can unite people from different cultures in a positive simple way. It gives hope to life that is too often full of suffering. I believe people like Chaplin, Stewart and Baron Cohen, or at least their characters are one interpretation of faith according to this religion.
So the fact that a rant about baby stuff we want to get rid of or a facebook comment made someone laugh makes me very happy. Much happier than if I’d make someone cry with my words. Ideally, If I may wish for a writing skill, I’d like to be able to get both reactions at the same time with one piece of writing. And that’s probably a little too serious thing about humor what I just wrote.
In first grade I got punished for writing ‘they fucked’ in a story in my little yellow memo pad. I was trying to describe something I saw on TV, got sent to the principal office but was so scared I hid in the bathroom instead. Eventually a shrink stated that I was bored and should attend second grade.
I find the artistic form of writing creative snail mail letters on old typewriters the most efficient, fun and effective way to politely tell my first grade teacher ‘fuck you!’. Whatever shame or other issues she had around sex, she didn’t manage to stop me from enjoying to write like a little boy who just learned that craft, though after that experience it took me twelve years to explore creative writing again.
I enjoy writing letters. Especially in the past few years, as the Internet is developing so rapidly, I’m constantly exploring this ancient way of communication. I see text as material, like a toddler sees clay and letters and envelopes are one of my main playgrounds.