Sheryl Intrator Urman’s desire to cultivate love for Israel took root in New Jersey’s artistic community.
In May, Intrator Urman, of Englewood, approached Artists4Israel, a non-profit organization dedicated to using art to promote support for Israel, to develop a new facet of its programming: a lecture series to stimulate artists to create work that highlights Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.
“I wanted to create a series that would help artists,” says Intrator Urman. “I wanted to make a series that would help Israel.”
To realize this dual vision, she worked with Artists4Israel staff to develop the new program, called the “Response Art Series.” Featuring five debate and discussion events related to Israel, the program will include exhibitions for participating artists, culminating in a juried show of selected pieces.
The first lecture, which took place Monday at the 92nd Street Y, featured Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and radio broadcaster John Batchelor discussing “Challenges and Opportunities for American and World Jewry.” The next lecture takes place Sunday at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. The subject is “The Palestinian Right to Israel” with Alex Grobman, a prominent Holocaust historian from Englewood.
Other organizations, including Jewish National Fund, The David Project, and StandWithUs.org, are coordinating with Artists4Israel. (See Artists4Israel.org.)
Intrator Urman’s vision included promoting these existing events to artists via Artists4Israel and arranging for the exhibitions.
“Sheryl took this idea and found a way to make it democratic and accessible to any wannabe Israel advocate,” said Craig Dershowitz, president and co-founder of Artists4Israel.
The idea is for artists to listen to the lectures, go home, and create art inspired by them. When the work is exhibited, not just the artists but also their families, friends, and other viewers will be exposed to pro-Israel views via art.
“When you have a reception … [with] friends of the artists and media, all of these viewers will now get a flavor for what the lecture was about because the artists will also have to make an artist’s statement about how the work relates to the lecture,” said Intrator Urman.
For her vision, Intrator Urman credits her local community of artists, specifically the groups Salute to Women in the Arts, a non-profit affiliated with the Art Center of North New Jersey, and the Jewish Bet Midrash in Teaneck.
She took inspiration for the project from the Jewish Bet Midrash. The “Response Art Series” is modeled on a project designed by that group, in which a rabbi and artist come to the synagogue and discuss a theme like “boundaries” or “beginnings” – and encourage group members to create art inspired by the talk. Then the group has a show at Temple Beth Sholom in Teaneck, where it meets.
Salute to Women in the Arts gives local artists the chance to exhibit their work, which the Response Art Series will do as well.
“I wanted to show my art but I didn’t know where to start, and these local groups gave me the opportunity to exhibit,” said Intrator Urman. “That’s what I’m trying to do for others. If they come to this Response Art Series they will have a place to show their art, even if it’s for the first time.”
She hopes the prospect of a juried show, with works selected for exhibit by a panel including gallery owners and academics, will also appeal to established artists.
Equally important to her is encouraging artists to make pieces to support Israel – and to raise awareness about Israel’s right to exist, Intrator Urman says. Artists4Israel seeks to reach both Jews and non-Jews with this pro-Israel message.
“Artists4Israel tries to reach out to artists no matter what faith they are,” she says. “We want people to understand Israel has the right to exist, just like France does [for example]. Israel is the only country that regularly feels the need to justify its right to exist, and we want to change that.”
Sometimes Jewish artists can be those in greatest need of hearing Israeli points of view.
“We have lots of Jewish artists who don’t know where they fall also,” Intrator Urman said. “We are doing this for the person who doesn’t know what they want to believe. There are many Jewish artists who don’t want to make art to support Israel. Artists are usually liberal-minded; not everyone wants to take a stand for Israel.”
The series of five lectures covers topics ranging from boycotts to water rights to perceptions of Israel in the media.
The series expands on an already existing element of Artists4Israel’s programming, the Dershowitz Center for pro-Israel Art. That program provides studio space to artists who are interested in learning about Israeli perspectives.
“We don’t dictate to the artist, and that’s what separates us from anti-Israel [sponsors of] art in the Arab world,” Dershowitz said.
Yona Verwer, a Manhattan painter who attended Monday’s talk, found unique inspiration in Batchelor’s discussion of an incident involving Saudi officials’ claims that appearances of exotic animals on Saudi Arabian soil were an Israeli plot.
“When they said sharks, pelicans, and griffin vultures were part of an Israeli plot,” she visualized an idea for a painting, she said, adding, “even nature is being used for anti-Israel propaganda.”
Artists and others interested in participating may call (201) 503-9796 for more information.