Arab and Israeli photographers depict ‘The Land Between Us’ in Puffin exhibit
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Arab and Israeli photographers depict ‘The Land Between Us’ in Puffin exhibit

An Arab mayor sips coffee. Two teenagers, one Jewish, one Arab, touch hands. An elderly woman sits at a sewing machine. A family of six poses in front of crates.

Those are some of the 80 pictures in an exhibit, "The Land Between Us," that opened on Saturday at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck.


Ruthie Eliasaf, Rachel Banai’s mother, stand with pomegranate trees on her kibbutz. Photo by Rachel Banai

Consisting of four sets of photographs, the exhibit features the works of two Israeli photographers, Rachel Banai and Rauf Abu Fani.

One set by Banai is of members of Kibbutz Sarid, where she was born 60 years ago. The kibbutz, in the lower Galilee, seven miles west of Afula, was founded in 19’6 by immigrants from Europe, among them Banai’s grandmother, Franci Fishel, who hailed from the former Czechoslovakia.

Banai’s mother, 81-year-old Ruthie Eliasaf, who is shown next to a pomegranate tree, works at the kibbutz four days a week.

The set also includes black-and-white photographs from the kibbutz’s archives. One is of Banai’s father, Eliyahu Eliasaf, who was born in Iran and died in 1989. He belonged to the Palmach, a Jewish defense organization in pre-state Israel.

The second set shows life in Kibbutz Samar, near Eilat, founded in 1977 by one of Banai’s brothers, Gil Eliasaf, and other former members of Kibbutz Sarid. Banai studied at the International Center of Photography in New York City, where she worked for seven years after graduating. She served in the Israeli Defense Forces, where she met her husband, Moshe Banai. The Banais settled in Teaneck in 1985 after Moshe Banai was offered a job teaching economics at Baruch College in New York.

Rachel Banai, whose work has appeared in this newspaper, has taught a weekend photography class at Puffin for the past five years.

Her photographs have been exhibited in the United States, Israel, Russia, and China, and have won several awards, including one from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

She said of "The Land Between Us," "My lens has captured portraits of people who have worked the land in the villages and in the kibbutzim; people who work hard to make their living, people who talk to each other, who dream about a better future of coexistence."

Rauf Abu Fani photographed Kfar Qara, an Arab town between Hadera and Afula, where he was born and still lives.

A graduate of the Art School at Beith Berl in Kfar Saba, with a degree in informal education and a master’s degree in community education, Abu Fani has exhibited his work in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Taiba.

"The Land Between Us" is his first exhibit in the United States.

Abu Fani teaches photography to ‘0 high school students, 10 Jewish and 10 Arabs, who meet weekly at the Givat Haviva Institute’s Art Center to work on photography projects. One of them, "Through the Other’s Eyes," is another part of "The Land Between Us."

Givat Haviva is a national education center founded in 1949 by the Kibbutz Artzi Movement — a federation of 83 kibbutzim — in memory of Haviva Reik, a Slovakian woman who settled in then-Palestine in 1939 and parachuted into her native country on a rescue mission in 1944. She was killed by the Nazis, along with other Jewish partisans.

According to Givat Haviva’s Website, the organization’s goal is to create "a better society in Israel." To that end it conducts "a broad range of formal and informal programs that resist all forms of racism and discrimination, bridge the gaps in Jewish-Arab relations, and promote greater understanding between different groups in Israeli society."

The "Through the Others’ Eyes" project is eight years old.

Speaking in Hebrew, with Moshe Banai translating, Abu Fani said that although several projects in Israel foster Arab-Jewish coexistence, "some are just talk. Ours is the only one that does something."

He praised his students’ pictures and said, "You don’t know who is Jewish or who is an Arab in them."

One of his students became a military photographer and will continue to pursue photography upon completing her military service, he added. Several of "Through the Others’ Eyes" students participate in a summer program at Camp Shomria, in upstate New York, supported in part by the Puffin Foundation. Rachel Banai has been the camp’s art director for more than ‘0 years.

Abu Fani also teaches a Givat Haviva photography class to Arab women in Kfar Qara. Several of his students are shown in the pictures.

Yoram Morad, Israeli consul for cultural affairs, who attended the opening reception, said in an interview that the photographs "are beautiful and full of emotions, and reveal significant moments" in the lives of those shown in them.

Their message, he added, "keeps reminding us that coexistence [between Jews and Arabs] is possible. We need to work hard so the conflict ends."

The exhibit closes Friday May ‘. The Puffin Cultural Forum is located at ‘0 Puffin Way. For more information, call (’01) 836-89’3.

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