Israeli artists hit snafu when cargo ship sails to Japan

The West Coast port lockout dealt a blow to dozens of Israeli artists already reeling from sagging tourism in their homeland.

A 92-box shipment of their wares landed this week in Japan instead of at a series of Bay Area art shows, organized to support 70 struggling artists and a fund for Israeli terror victims.

"I couldn't believe it," said Safed weaver Yair Moore. The volunteer curator of the benefit shows, Moore has spent the last week scrambling to replace the detoured inventory. Valued at almost $500,000, it includes sculptures, glass work, weavings, Judaica and ceramics.

The James River Bridge, a Japanese-owned cargo ship carrying the goods, arrived in Oakland. But when the lockout kept the ship from completely unloading, it sailed on to Kobe rather than wait out the labor dispute, which closed 29 ports along the coast for 11 days. A federal judge ordered the ports reopened Wednesday after President Bush sought an 80-day cooling-off period.

The ship's captain decided to "cut and run," said Dugan Graddy, executive vice president for Cosco shipping in Houston. Cosco is handling the cargo but doesn't own the wayward ship, Graddy added.

Moore said that many of his fellow artists, hurt by the economic ripples from the intifada, had taken out loans to buy materials to produce new artwork for the shows.

"Some of them were on the verge of closing their doors," he said. "They took a big risk and now I'm calling them to say, 'Your stuff is on the way to Japan.'"

Moore, 44, learned of the snafu shortly after arriving in the Bay Area last week. He brought along jewelry and smaller pieces that make up only about 15 percent of the artists' inventory.

He sold what he could at Sunday's "To Life!" street fair in Palo Alto and another show this week at Redwood City's Temple Beth Jacob. "There wasn't very much to buy," he admitted.

"When I first heard about it, I sat down for 20 minutes. I didn't know what to do."

By Tuesday, he and his American supporters had done plenty: making international phone calls around the clock, creating poster-size photos of the missing artwork for display at the fairs and tracking down the whereabouts of the cargo.

An optimistic Moore now is expecting an air delivery of fresh artwork to arrive from Israel as early as today. "Everyone pulled whatever they had off their shelves" and put it on a plane from Ben-Gurion Airport, he said.

He also remained hopeful that the original shipment could be flown back to the Bay Area by next week.

Those rush shipments are coming at a heavy, if discounted, price: an estimated $15,000.

So far, Moore is footing that bill. But San Francisco attorney Alan Zimmerman, one of the local organizers of the benefits, is trying to lend a hand.

Zimmerman, head of the Bridges to Israel program at Tiburon's Congregation Kol Shofar, is asking friends for donations to defray the extra shipping costs. He also set up a fund through the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund for the Organization of Israel's Terror Victims.

"It's been touching to see how many people care," said Moore. "I'm starting to cheer up."

The original shipment sailed out of Haifa on Aug. 16. Now Moore hopes to have it back for the next fair, which runs from Sunday through Thursday at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael.

Other fairs will will be held Sunday, Oct. 20 to Thursday, Oct. 24 at the Magnes Museum space at the Jewish Community Federation; S.F.; Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Sebastopol Community Center; and Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26 and 27, at the Danville Community Center.

"The situation in Israel is so unfortunate. Here is this additional injury," said Dr. Elliott Lavey, a Danville plastic surgeon who helped organize the Israeli artists' shows, called "Galilee Comes to the Bay."

Ten percent of the profits are slated to go to the terror victims' fund.

Ironically, the ship carrying the Israeli cargo arrived in Oakland before the labor dispute between dockworkers and management closed the port on Sept. 27. Some of the cargo was unloaded, but the art pieces never got off the ship before it sailed to Japan.

"That's not our ship," said Cosco's Graddy, saying he had no power to turn it around.

When the James River Bridge reportedly arrived in Kobe on Tuesday, Moore and other supporters made hurried plans to get the cargo unloaded and returned to the Bay Area by air.

"I like challenges," said Moore. "I picked one and it's turned into a double challenge."