And Moses said to the Israelites: See, the LORD has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. God has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft and has inspired him to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood—to work in every kind of designer’s craft— and to give directions.
The Torah reading this week, from Vayakhel-Pekudei, continues the instructions for building the mishkan (tabernacle) and listing the needed materials. We also learn that there is an artist among the Israelities – Bezalel ben Ur. Bezalel is named as the head of the creative team, taking a direct commission from God on creating this fantastic piece of holy art. Bezalel, we are told in the text, is not only selected because of his skill as an artist, but for his ability to instruct others. He will need a team of artists to complete the tasks and he must be able to guide them. His artistry and vision is important and it will empower others to add their artistic talents to the mishkan. Today, Bezalel’s legacy lives on through the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. Bezalel Academy is one of the world’s most prestigious art schools and serves as a cultural springboard for Israeli society. Too often, we spend so much time focusing on Israel's existential geo-political and social challenges and forget about the vibrant cultural life in the county. Israel is filled with artists and innovators, creating art that reflects its past, present, and future.
The artists at Bezalel Academy helped shape what it means when the world thinks of Israeli art and Jewish art. For many, Jewish art depicts specifically Jewish stories, characters, or holidays. It is art tied with ritual, like candle sticks or a ketubah. Israeli art is different. It reflects the dynamic nature of Israeli society, always learning, changing, and innovating. It can be challenging art, created by people looking for political and social change in the country. The work of last year’s graduates, the school’s YouTube channel, and other portfolios and galleries on the site – demonstrate the myriad of ways art can express Israeli identity.
A major piece of Israeli identity is resilience and thriving during even the most difficult times. The Israel Museum, a world-class art museum with items ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculpture in Hebrew, opened its virtual doors to the world, recognizing the importance of art at this time. In today’s uncertainty, a virtual stroll through an art museum, like the Israel Museum, can help. The Israelites were tasked with creating the mishkan, a work of art, while they journeyed in the desert. It was a scary time, unpredictable and not always safe. Artistic creation helped them through that time and hopefully can be a resource to us today.