Bay Area students impressions of Israel illuminate new art exhibit at Jewish library

Two young soldiers stand before the Western Wall. One covers his eyes, absorbed in prayer. Both figures seem to sink into the background, almost melting into the Wall.

The chalk drawing of the soldiers is by Roni Strum, an Israeli in sixth grade at Sunnyvale's South Peninsula Hebrew Day School. It is part of "Israel 50 Years Young: Students from Synagogue and Day Schools Picture Israel," an exhibit in the newly renovated Rusty Dobbs Reading Room of San Francisco's Jewish Community Library.

The show, which opened last month, continues through Aug. 30.

Strum and other students at area Jewish day schools and synagogues were asked to draw images of Israel from experience or books.

"I was thinking about the Six-Day War and I thought about the soldiers," said Strum, through her mother, who translated her daughter's Hebrew. "Those soldiers helped citizens lead a real life. [More recently], I was witness to some attacks in Tel Aviv and on TV and that is what I remember."

Children used a variety of materials to construct their art. Some made mosaics out of egg shells. Some crafted ceramic tiles engraved with Jewish images.

A group of Russian-born high school students painted on plates, showing synagogues and scenes of life in rural Israel.

Max Kreitman, a sixth-grader at Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, shaped a pipe cleaner into glasses for a doll titled "Chassidic." The doll, who looks strikingly similar to John Lennon, hugs a prayerbook with both arms; the book is made from scrap paper with Hebrew writing.

Jenna Reback, also a Kol Emeth sixth-grader, hung a rifle round on a necklace for her dark figure "Soldier Girl."

A thickly colored crayon and pencil drawing titled "City Wall of Jerusalem" by Bar Roggel captures the peaceful weight of the city at dusk.

"Our teacher Sagi Erez asked us to draw about Israel's independence and I remembered celebrating Israel's Independence Day," said Roggel, a second-grader at South Peninsula Hebrew Day School. "I was born in Israel and all my family lives there. It's fun to draw and I felt excited because it is the first time my drawing was ever exhibited."

Discussing the show, curator Sandy Cohen-Wynn, an arts educator, said art is a powerful tool for teaching Judaism. The students' "mental picture becomes a reality when you do something physical. It reinforces their learning."

The "50 Years Young" exhibit is the first display in the library's newly renovated Rusty Dobbs Reading Room. The room was reopened last month after major renovations made possible by the Dobbs family. The library installed 14 plywood panels with carpet coverings where craft objects and paintings can be mounted.

Jonathan Schwartz, librarian at the Jewish Community Library, said the exhibit builds community by letting "parents learn more about what their kids are doing in the Jewish schools."

Among those whose work is on display is Lydia Marque, a 13-year-old at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Francisco. On a tile, she etched a hand with a large eye embedded in the palm. Marque dubs her piece "Yad," Hebrew for "hand." The hand stands out against a sky-blue background, warmed by a bright sun, next to the flag of Israel.

"I have seen the yad on bulletin boards and on papers," Marque said. "I was taught it represented a dove. The dove in the Jewish tradition is a symbol of peace. Israel has had many wars and wants peace. The dove represents what is wanted, peace."

A Brandeis seventh-grader, Erica Schoenberg, also has a tile work in the exhibit. Titled "Daytime," her piece shows a pair of ripe, ruby pomegranates hanging on a tree branch.

"The picture represents Israel, summer, and freedom," she said. "We were creating at the same time as the `Israel at 50' celebrations, and peace is something I wanted to express for the new year."

Other works in the show are by children from Congregations Emanu-El, Sherith Israel and Hebrew Academy in San Francisco; Jewish Day School of the North Peninsula in San Mateo; Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame; and Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City.

Cohen-Wynn said one of the most special moments as the curator was watching the children as they first saw their work on display. "Some were skipping through the air, some were just excited they had a label next to their piece, or that it was behind Plexiglas.

"It is a nice thing for the library to want to put the children forward — that is a great commandment," she said.