Within a week difference, Jews around the world commemorate Yom HaShoah, commonly known as the Holocaust; Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism; and Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948. In parallel, we witness a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and in Islamic countries. In view of these, I decided to produce a short documentary as a reminder that visualizes aspects of these conflicting forces, brings personal stories and testimonials, and shows Israel’s life and architecture today as an extraordinary “human laboratory” to change the world for the better. To set this reality within a global context, I include here a Humanistic Agenda for the 21st. Century.
1. Shoah and “Leprosy of the Spirit”
On April 11, I assisted to a commemoration of the Shoah at the Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes. The mass murder of six million Jews by the German Nazi regime and its collaborators during 1941-45 was reminded through the lighting of six candles and the presentation of the documentary, “Never Again is Now,” about Evelyn Marcus’ family journey in her native Netherlands, and her personal confrontation with the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Evelyn Markus is a psychologist expert on managing resistance and conflict at work, and emotional self-control. When asked during the Q & A “how one confronts xenophobia and hatred,” her answer was: “you first show that it is wrong and that should not be rewarded.” Sure, but that is not enough. Bernard Henry-Levi defined anti-Semitism as the leprosy of the spirit. In an article published four years ago,“A 100-Year Cease-Fire,” I proposed a “carrot and the stick method” to solve Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict.
2. Dreaming + Will vs. Xenophobia
Theodor Herzl, considered to be the father of political Zionism, believed that antisemitism could not be defeated or cured, only avoided, and that the only way to avoid it was by the establishment of a Jewish state. Today we all know that even the Jewish State, which this year celebrates its seventieth anniversary, is not a cure for the leprosy of antisemitism, yet it offers a strong “antibiotic” through a combination of creativity and military strength.
Architecture and planning in Israel played a vital role in Israel’s development, from the foundation of Tel Aviv in 1909 as a modern city on the sand dunes North of Jaffa, to the absorption of Bauhaus and Le Corbusier’s ideas into a social agenda, to many examples on forefront architecture today. If and when the many xenophobic Islamic countries that surround Israel will realize how much their own development could benefit through collaboration rather than hatred, Israel’s know-how can help the Middle East to become a new Renaissance.
3. A humanistic Agenda with a Vision
Whether the world’s population will be 10,000,000,000 in 2050, 2044 (my 100-year birthday!) or 2060, is not important. We’ll get there and far beyond. At a global level of a social agenda, the priorities are:
Universal Physical and Mental Healthcare
Universal Income-producing Jobs
Sustainable Food Production
In this context, architecture has a moral responsibility. The social agenda is part and parcel of the architectural agenda and of the sustainability agenda.
In a world where the speed of growth of human needs exceeds the speed of production to satisfy those needs, SPEED OF CONSTRUCTION and AFFORDABILITY are critical.
Also critical is the QUALITY OF THE HUMAN HABITAT. It starts with the DWELLING UNIT, it expands to the URBAN ENVIRONMENT, and it touches every single aspect of human life: the quality of the working space, of the learning space, of the social space.
SUSTAINABILITY brings GLOBAL CONSCIOUSNESS to the realm of architecture.
ARCHITECTURE AS ART is critical to integrate the physical and the emotional human needs.
MIXED-USE AND MULTI-FUNCTIONALITY are integral components of the sustainability agenda. While mixed-use juxtapose multiple functions (housing, commerce, education) multi-functionality makes possible the multiple uses of the same space, and the multiple-use of the same component: a stairway as structure, a column or beam as a container of ducts, a wall as a container of storage, a roof as an edible garden.
PROXIMITY BETWEEN LIVING SPACE AND WORKING SPACE are part of the sustainability agenda. It can be a. Within the dwelling unit; b. Adjacent to the dwelling unit (price Tower); c. Within walking or bike distance from the dwelling.
MOBILITY is integral to both human needs and to sustainability, yet it demands a total revision of how it works. It consists of three categories. A. Emergency access (firemen, ambulances, police, rescue from disasters.) b. Public use: air mobility and public transportation of multiple kinds: trains, tramways, air tram cable cars, moving conveyors, buses, taxis (with drivers or driverless;) Pc. Private: bikes, skateboards, cars, trucks (private or rented.)
ART, together with nature, remain an important source of inspiration and, as in the case of nature, it must be read in the context of time and place, and it must be reinterpreted. The sources could be many: the Caves of Altamira, the graphics of mud huts in Africa or of American Indian tents, and the works of Western and Eastern high-art through the millennia.
In all these areas, Israel is likely to play a vital role. Its success is as an antibiotic against anti-Semitic leprosy as one can get.
Normality “Lo-Normali” (ambiguous Hebrew slang for ‘abnormal, crazy, exceptional, wonderful, insane, magnificent) synthesizes itwo previously published documentaries, “The City that Never Sleeps” and “Jerusalem Journal.” Although the editing is different, the message remains the same. It presents contrasts between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and within each of the two cities as a showcase intended to defeat misconceptions about Israel’s reality.
Normality usually does not produce headlines. Stories related to terrorism, war and political scandals on the negative side, and innovations in science and technology on the positive does. During the five months that I spent in Israel in 2016, a focused my attention on capturing images of everyday life: riding a bus, walking by the beach, witnessing some of Israel’s unique events, such as having the entire population standing still for two minutes at the sound of the sirens during Memorial and Holocaust remembrance days, and the Pride Parade and White Night in Tel Aviv.
Although the two largest cities represent only a part of Israel’s reality, the contrast between the two make more legible the country’s complexity, usually oversimplified with reports on conflicts – right versus left, religious versus secular, sacred versus profane, Palestinians versus Israelis.
Israel is a unique country in a unique situation. That is why its normality is simply “Lo-Normali.”
Normal everyday life in Israel is rarely portrayed by the media, which, understandably, is more interested in newsworthy extreme situations such as terror, war, disasters and scandals on the downside, and discoveries in science and technology on the positive. As an alternative, during my five-month journey in Israel, I focused mainly on documenting aspects of Israel’s everyday life.
I lived in Ramat Aviv. Therefore, most of my shooting happened in the Nonstop City. Yet I also went several times to Jerusalem, which is for me the most complex conurbation I know. Although I visited other parts of Israel, I decided to focus my filmmaking on the contrast between these two cities and within each.
When I learned about a video contest titled “Inspired by Israel,” I decided to submit a 5-minute video, which I’ll include here once the competition is over. In the meantime, the 29-second trailer will give you some idea of the documentary content.
Tel Aviv, “The City that Never Sleeps,” is on its way to become one of the world’s great metropolitan areas. It projects a sense of informal freedom, in plain contrast with the distortions frequently delivered by the media.
Cities are not just compilations of buildings, streets and open spaces; they are – or they are supposed to be – places where people can increase their chances of self-realization as happy human beings. The “State of Tel Aviv,” as is commonly labeled, to distinguish it from the rest of the country, is a city that looks more into the future than into the past.
The fourteen-hour non-stop flight from LAX to TLV brought me back to a place that has changed in many ways. Yet in spite of Israel’s contradictions, inequalities and extremes, I found the country exceptionally better than when I left it, back in 2001. Its energy cannot be described neither visually nor in writing; it must be felt.
I saw people of all ages, colors and countries of origin. I saw construction going on everywhere, with high-rise buildings becoming commonplace, and not only in Tel Aviv. During an “Architect’s Day Symposium” at the Cinematheque, the City’s Director of Planning told us that, at this time, there are in plan-check residential and commercial projects for a total of almost eight million square meters, or about 86 million square feet. That is the equivalent of four hundred twenty-story high building on the Wilshire Corridor.
The new wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, designed by architect Preston Scott Cohen as an addition to the museum’s Main Building, is the latest development in a process that started in the 1930s, when the city’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, created a municipal art museum in his own house.
The project’s main concept was the creation of an 87-foot-high atrium, called “the lightfall,” which brings natural light deep into the building. The program for the new addition was demanding. Rectangular galleries had to fit into a triangular site, which also had to accommodate a new art library that takes one third of the total 200,000 square feet, or about 18,000 square meters.
One may argue whether the design belongs to the trend triggered by the “Bilbao Effect,” which resonates in the works of Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind. Yet, in spite of the building’s trendy aspects, the use of light in the atrium brings a poetic contribution to the building.
Ramat Aviv, the North Tel Aviv neighborhood, is a place of normality within abnormality. At its center is Neveh Avivim, where many notorious people lived, among them Prime Minister Ytzhak Rabin and President Shimon Peres. Besides being close to the sea, it has a powerful anchor: the Tel Aviv University campus, which serves as a magnet to a highly educated population. It is also strategically located next to important arteries of mobility.
Tel Aviv’s 18th annual Pride Parade was officially titled “Women for Change.” Although it joins similar manifestations around the world to assert tolerance and equal rights for all, this event, under the particular situation of the Middle East, and given Israel’s political map, is not just about personal liberty. It is about freedom from coercion of any kind. It has the symptoms of a revolt against all establishments.
Tel Aviv’s “White Night,” unlike its siblings “Nuit Blanche,” “Notte Bianca,” “La Noche en Blanco,” “Noaptea Alba,” and so on, carries a powerful message to many who still have hard time to accept Israel as a vibrant civilization. It sais: we, the people, young, old, men, women, straight and gay, secular and religious, Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists, enjoy life and contribute to culture and any way we can.”
The festival was spread throughout the city. I counted at least eighteen areas, from the City Harbor, the University of Tel Aviv and the Haaretz Museum in the north, to Jaffa in the south, from the beaches in the west to the new Sarona development area in the east. They included dancing, theater for adults and children, artworks, music, public singing, magic, image projections, DJ’s stages, art events, poetry readings, exhibitions and street performances. My video covers only a fraction of what went on, an approximately ten-kilometer walk along Rothschild Blvd., the Habima Square, Dizengoff Street and Rabin Square.
My observations through the lens of a camera tried to capture some of the elements that reflect some aspects of a country that is a mosaic of cultures, tribes and ideas, frequently clashing to one another: right (nationalist, secular or religious) vs. left (liberal-progressive,) orthodox-religious vs. secular-cosmopolitan, straight vs. gay, machismo vs. feminism. And yet, coexistence is possible, in spite of the many differences.
My love affair with Jerusalem has been a long one. It is actually linked to love. On September 4, 1966, I married Ruth under the sky of Jerusalem, by the University of Jerusalem’s synagogue. Designed by architects Rau and Resnick, it was, at that time, the only modern synagogue in the city. Although we were not residents of Jerusalem and we are not religious, the choice of the place was a conscious decision to symbolically integrate love, history and architecture.
During the Six Day War we were students of architecture in Rome. We managed to land in Israel on June 27, 1967, just on time to be at the Jaffa Gate on June 29, at noon, when the gates were first opened to the Jews following nineteen years of Jordanian occupation.
Between then and now, forty-nine years had gone by. During this period I visited the city on many times occasions. This time however, I wanted to see with new eyes some places that I knew (the Old City, the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book, the Machane Yehuda market) and to explore some architectural works that I had not been at (Safdie’s Yad Vashem and the Mamilla Mall, the Karmi brothers’ Supreme Court and Calatrava’s Cord Bridge.) Above all, I wanted to observe people. During three non-consecutive days I walked throughout the city miles upon miles and also used the new light rail. I traveled with people of all walks of life, ages and belief systems. I heard chatting in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, English, Italian…the list of languages and ethnicities goes on and on.
I could have spent years studying Jerusalem’s Old City’s many layers, which exceeds the multiple layers of Rome, a place where I lived for seven years. I knew that I wanted to visit the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, but most of all I wanted to immerse myself into the labyrinth of its streets. On one of these I got lost and ended up walking into the Al-haram ash-Sharif, or the Temple Mount, as it is known in English.
I had been there before and knew my way around. As I took off my shoes to walk into the Dome, I was asked by the guard “Are you Jewish?” I said, “Yes.” “You can’t be here,” he said. He asked me to seat and called Arab security. I was politely detained for about half hour, and was then escorted to leave the place through the same gate from which I had walked in. Two Palestinian guards stood there. The officer who accompanied me asked them “why did you let him in?” “He looked Arab,” one of the guards said. That was a first: “An Arab of Russian ancestry!” Maybe we come from the same pull of genes, who knows?
I found Calatrava’s bridge beautiful, in spite of some criticism that “it does not belong there.” I think it does. I think that it added another layer of uniqueness to the city. I found Safdie’s Holocaust Museum “sign into the land” powerful and appropriate for the unspeakable drama that it contains. I think also that Ram Karmi (for whom I worked for as a young architect) and Ada Karmi-Melamede’s Supreme Court are not only a remarkable piece of architecture, but also well integrated to the site. I was surprise to see that the building was smaller than I imagined it.
The revisit to the Shrine of the Book did not disappoint me. I think that it withstands well the test of time. It is remarkable that a man like Friedrich Kiesler, an Austro-Hungarian artist, theater designer and sculptor who lived in New York, made out of his first and last architectural work one of the city’s best.
Moshe Safdie made it again in his design of the Mamilla Mall and hotel. Although it contains the same type of brands that one can find in shopping centers around the world, this open mall uniquely “belongs to the place” without recurring to gimmicks.
My seventh and last film on Israel for this period, “Jerusalem Journal,” illustrates through images more than I could ever put into words.