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January 16: The Bezalel Academy

January 16, 2016

Bezalel_drawing_class_under_direction_of_Abel_Pann_1912The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Israel’s national school of art, was established on this date in 1906 by Boris Schatz, a Lithuanian-born artist and sculptor. Its goals were “to train the people of Jerusalem in crafts, develop original Jewish art and support Jewish artists, and to find visual expression for the much yearned-for national and spiritual independence that seeks to create a synthesis between European artistic traditions and the Jewish design traditions of the East and West, and to integrate it with the local culture of the Land of Israel.” The first class consisted of thirty European art students, who learned Hebrew from Eliezer Ben Yehuda. In 1912 (the year of the photo at left), the school accepted its first female student, Marousia Nissenholtz, who used the pseudonym Chad Gadya. Yemenite Jews were soon filling seats as craftspeople and precious metalworkers. Bezalel — named for the Biblical artist who designs the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness — closed in 1929 and reopened in 1935, becoming a center for many Bauhaus architects and designers fleeing Nazism. Today approximately 2,000 students are enrolled at Bezalel, and many of Israel’s best-known artists, designers, filmmakers, and sculptors are among its graduates.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all manner of workmanship — to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” —Exodus 31, 1-5