At least 15 years have passed since I ventured down to the annual, exciting outdoor presentations by artists in the Jerusalem Sultan’s Pool and the park that runs just below Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the premier residence near the Old City Walls.
In recent years the Artists’ Fair has grown to highlight international artists as well as Israelis.
My friend in the artists’ colony itself is David Moss, the creator of a noted illuminated haggadah that is found in people’s homes and in the collections of major institutions. The Library of Congress has used its Moss haggadah several times.
Last year the Moss volume was a part of the haggadah exhibit held at the Pitts Library of Emory’s Candler School of Theology, where Pat Graham has amassed a collection of almost 750 haggadot during his tenure as the director of the library. Now he is retiring.
What is so exciting about David Moss is that he is creating Jewish art all the time. His posters in particular are found framed in homes around the globe.
His unusual use of Hebrew letters in artistic pieces has to be seen to be believed. He is one of the world’s specialists in micrography, building art with the use of tiny Hebrew letters. His shtender (the stand used by rabbis and others to study and daven) has long been sold out. In it are all the objects one needs to practice Judaism at home.
The Artists’ Fair began about 35 years ago when Teddy Kollek, who was the mayor, wanted to create an opportunity for Jerusalem’s artists to exhibit in a fair in the city. The idea caught on, and the event has grown bigger each year.
One of the draws is that every evening a famous Israeli singer performs. Rita was performing last night, but I did not have the energy to stay and hear her.
The first shock at the fair is that everyone is speaking Hebrew — adults, children, soldiers, religious individuals and the unusually dressed. Once or twice I heard some English, but then the person went back to Hebrew — an oleh (immigrant) who has been in Israel for a goodly amount of time.
In between the area where the Israeli artists have their displays and the international artists have their exhibits is the food court, which has one side for milk and one side for meat. Once you buy your food, you can eat anywhere you can find a seat.
The biggest sellers were giant baked potatoes that could be filled with olives, corn and the best little pieces of chopped cheese mixed with Israel’s form of sour cream. While David Moss and I were standing in line, between 40 and 50 potatoes were sold.
Why is this fair so important this year? A few weeks ago, Israelis — Jerusalemites in particular — were on edge because of tensions related to the Temple Mount. People stayed home.
But after a few days they returned to their regular schedules. This fair gave Jerusalemites and others a chance to celebrate the summer and the upcoming fall and, for a good number, the High Holidays.
I assume there were over 2,000 people at the fair the night I went, and probably 40 percent were children.
Israelis were saddened about what occurred in Charlottesville, Va. The story has been covered widely by TV stations and newspapers. For most Israelis, this trouble is more evidence that anti-Semitism and hate groups are becoming even more virulent in their actions. It took a long time for President Donald Trump to be highly critical of those groups.
My friends and I secretly watched the Klan burn a cross at the base of Stone Mountain in 1954. The hatred spewed out against African-Americans, Catholics and Jews. When we thought one of their guards had spotted us, we ran to our car as quickly as we could.
Jerusalem has the right to be joyful, as do its citizens. We hope that the tensions of the past few weeks have eased. There is no known solution to the problems, but at least it is pleasurable to go out and enjoy yourself.
We had a group of olim arrive today. My wife and I and our three children made aliyah 40 years ago; your chance is now.
Rabbi David Geffen, an Atlanta native, lives in Jerusalem.