Barbara Bamberger, A Galilee Mosaic, Jerusalem Post March 27, 2015, p. 12
The maternity ward of Western Galilee Medical Center, Nahariya’s hospital serving 600,000 area residents, is hosting an unlikely art project.
In the covered atrium opposite the nurses’ station, an enormous mosaic-in-progress lies on a huge table.
Hospital staff, patients, their visitors and residents are encouraged to come and help glue tiles.
This piece is the center panel of a triptych that will hang in the new women’s health wing, due to open in May.
Two side panels are being made in the US; when finished, the large mosaic will represent thousands of hours of work by hundreds of people on two continents. It is the brainchild of first cousins Joani Rothenberg and Yael Buxbaum.
In 2013-14, Rothenberg, an artist and art therapist from Indianapolis, was invited to be an artist-in-residence at the St. Vincent Hospital Cancer Center in Indiana’s capital. She had never done a mosaic but thought it could work as a true collaboration. “Many people could participate without making too much mess,” she said. “We got people to work who would never step foot in an art studio; it was a real community-building experience.
“A mosaic is a living puzzle. You take broken pieces and make them whole again – in a different way. Patients and their loved ones could forget about everything except choosing the next tile.”
It also provided a comfortable space for people to share their fears, hopes and concerns. “We did one piece there and people asked for more.” Encouraged by the positive response, it occurred to her that a similar project might be successful as a community-building exercise in Israel.
Through a previous art commission, Rothenberg had a connection with Western Galilee Medical Center’s director. When she introduced her idea to director-general Dr. Masad Barhoum, he was extremely receptive; with the construction of a new wing, the timing was perfect.
“Joani and I had worked together in the past; when she suggested this project, I was more than excited,” recounted Buxbaum, an artist and jeweler living near Ra’anana. They met with hospital director of women’s health Dr. Jacob Bornstein and the nursing staff to discuss possible ideas.
A maternity ward is a place of joy, of new life and of creation. In the Galilee, it’s also a place where people of many ethnicities from every walk of life meet on equal footing.
“Because of the population the hospital serves, we didn’t want to do anything offensive. We wanted an image everyone could relate to, but something feminine as well,” Buxbaum recalled. “We chose to use nature as metaphor.” She and Rothenberg created a scene in which fertility and feminism are portrayed as a tree of life on the Mediterranean Sea, with Rosh Hanikra and Acre in the distance.
The Glick Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis provided initial support. The St. Vincent Foundation is donating one of the side panels, which will be made in that hospital; the other side panel will travel with Rothenberg to Jewish communities throughout the American Midwest as a project of Partnership2Gether (P2G – previously known as Partnership 2000), a program of the Jewish Agency and Jewish Federations of North America.
“Our mission is to be a living bridge between Israel and communities abroad,” noted Heidi Benish of P2G. “We create a common language through programs in the arts, medicine and education; we host delegations, college seminars, programs for seniors. It’s a back and forth – they support us, financially and otherwise, and we support them by solidifying their Jewish identity. We encourage personal connections. Joani is an example of our success.”
“The hospital is not only a health services provider, but an organization important to the community,” said Aya Kipershlak, director of international affairs at Western Galilee Medical Center. “Currently, there is a discrepancy between our professionalism and our hospitalization services. The new wing is a priority; we have one of the most active delivery rooms in the country with about 5,000 births per year. On the ward, three or four women share a room, two rooms share a bathroom. The new wing has mostly single bedrooms and, even more importantly, its own underground facility.
“The situation [on the border with Lebanon] can change instantly. It is important that women and children can be moved immediately.”
“This is the first time we’re doing a project on this level. We are doing a lot of outreach, but now we’re asking the community to do something here. This is unique,” she said. High-school groups, municipal and regional council employees, and members of the Women’s International Zionist Organization and the English-Speaking Residents Association – Jews and non-Jews alike – are scheduling time to come work on the panel.
To ensure the finished piece is successful, Buxbaum is there to supervise. “But this project is about the people and this hospital,” she insisted. “Some people put in one tile and feel they’ve participated; others spend every spare minute.”
“We’re excited about the idea of so many people being part of this,” said hospital assistant director-general Dr. Tsvi Sheleg, “from the head of the hospital to the people who sweep the floor; community here and abroad. This brings us together and gives us so much strength. Our hospital staff is a mosaic of people: Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Druse, Circassian, Russian, Ethiopian. We come in and work together; we’re devoted to our patients and the community. When there’s a tight situation on the border, it’s tense for everyone. We go through the tough times together.”
According to Sara Paperin, director of foreign media, the diversity of the staff mirrors that of the population served by the hospital: 50 percent of Western Galilee residents are non-Jewish; they comprise 60% of Israel’s non-Jews.
“We are a government general hospital; we don’t have a budget for fancy things,” she clarified. “The attitude has always been, ‘A new machine is more important – we’ll paint the walls later.’ But for the community, we’re the only game in town. When you treat a place with appreciation and respect, it becomes a more healing place.”
“Dr. Barhoum says, ‘When we walk through the gates of the hospital, we cease to be Jews or Arabs or Muslim or Christian. There’s no Left or Right; we’re patients or caregivers,'” said Paperin. “And that sums up our community and how we interact. This project supports that type of environment.”
The mosaic panels will hang prominently in the new wing, where sun coming through the glass wall of the lobby will reflect off the glass tiles. “It will be so beautiful,” enthused Kipershlak. “It will make everyone proud to have been a part of it.”
For information or to schedule a visit, contact Aya Kipershlak: firstname.lastname@example.org