This unique report card was issued for me 6 years ago and is one of the most inspiring artworks I know of. It was in an art event I was one of its organizers, a semi-spontaneous art festival at the “Shuk Makhne Yehuda” – the West Jerusalem market. For the first time, Many artists and a large audience came to celebrate in the Shuk during hours that it is usually a pretty scary place.
At about 2am, two guys showed up with a big plastic container and invited people to their “Teachers’ office” (empty vegetable stand) and had them sit on produce boxes while they issued them a new end of the year report card. I wasn’t quite sure what I’m getting into, but being drunk and excited for the success of the event, I just did. First, they asked me if there was any school year that was somewhat hard for me. I remember thinking for a few minutes since I had many years I’d like to “fix”, many moments during my schooling years that were full of shame, sadness, lack of self-esteem and true friendships. I’ve decided to share with them my first grade experience (I wrote about this unusual semi-sexual experience here).
Soon after sharing this pretty traumatic episode with them I was issued a new report card, in which I was described as a wonderful kid, that no one should disturb him from developing and discovering the world, a lovely and creative child who is perfect just the way he is. Besides getting straight A’s in all of the classes (both semesters) I was sent into the next grade – freedom, and I wasn’t allowed to attend the class of boredom and fixedness. I was described as a child who fulfills his huge potential and that can deal with life challenges in the best way possible. I got sent early to second grade out of love (and not out of my first grade teacher’s issues around fucking) and with faith that I’d keep growing wonderfully.
I couldn’t stop thanking them. It might have been the most meaningful artwork I’ve ever participated in and I can’t overestimate how much it affected me as an artist and as a person. Yes, art can be deep and serious and sad and many other things, but it can also, using very simple tools, make people happy and explore the boundaries between “art”, “loving-kindness”, “therapy” and “humanity”. I’m not even sure if these two guys considered what they did as art. I don’t remember their names but I would never look at my first grade experience the same way. I don’t know if I still have my report card from first grade, but this report card will stay in my heart forever. I heard a theory that our memory is kind of tricky – if we tell ourselves a story many times, we remember it. If I’d tell myself this alternative story about me as a child, my mind might consider it a reality. So why not, sometimes at least, tell ourselves alternative stories?
Inspired by this work, I’m developing an experimental service – if you believe that you (or someone you know) did something special and never got acknowledged for it, or had a bad experience you’d like to revisit with an alternative version, Alfassi Books can issue a special alternative certificate/diploma/report card for you. If you’re interested in such service, please email me with an explanation of the good deed or bad experience and we can schedule a video call to discuss that and figure out what needed to be issued. I promise to be respectful, supportive and hopefully funny. As with the letters project, all certificates can be confidential or I can make an artistic use with them, like adding them to a booklet or to this website, depending on that participant’s choice. I’m very much excited by this artistic opportunity.
(English after Hebrew)
אינני שומר מצוות
אך יש במצוות הגניזה
משהו נוגע ללב, מרגש
ביחוד לחובבי ספרים, כמוני
מול התחנה המרכזית החדשה
היה מבנה נטוש, מאוד נטוש היה המבנה
היו מגיעים אליו כלמיני
בעבר היה המקום
אולי בגלל זה היו מוטלים בו
אלפי ספרי קודש
על הרצפה, משכב לחסרי בית
יורם אמיר, ידידי הצלם, הכיר לי את המקום
הייתי בא, תולש ספרי קהלת מן התנ”כים
ומבצע בהם מעשים אמנותיים
an observant Jew
but the Gniza mitzvah
in which we are commanded
to bury holy text
when we’re done using it
is very exciting to me
in an abandoned building
in front of the central bus station
in West Jerusalem
thousands of books
Bibles, Talmud, Mishna
laid on the floor
as beds to homeless people
The building used to be
a Beit-Midrash once
My friend Yoram showed it to me
and I would come
tear the book of Ecclesiastes
out of old Bible books
and make all sorts of art with them
instead of Gniza
Ecclesiastes text glued on an 18th century Jewish Musar (morals) book Mesilat Yesharim (path of the righteous) by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzato –
says the Teacher.
2 Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
A friend from out of town came to visit our synagogue and said she wish there was a synagogue that is God-free. I told her that our synagogue is sort of God light, or diet God, but it was still too much God for her diet.
I don’t know whether God exists or not, but I honestly don’t understand why human beings spend so much time thinking and arguing about that. I mean we’re going to find out when we die anyway so why bother about it now? ‘What is God’ is a more of an interesting question to me than whether it exists or not, since it has so many different answers than just yes or no.
I do believe that acts of loving kindness count more than type of faith though.
What I love about our synagogue, BHA, is that there are about as many different views of Judaism and of God as the number of members, if not more (two Jews, three opinions, so it says).
One of the most reasonable ways to end the Israeli Palestine conflict is to declare the Holy Land as not holy, as just a regular place. It may sound unreasonable, but I think that for most of the Jewish people this had already happened. Many if not most Jews don’t see the “holy places” as holy in the traditional sense of the word. Many poets and writers had already said that there’s a lot of sacredness in the casual and regular events and places, in everything, so this idea is not even be a big change of mindset for most people. If religions would start to consider the whole wide world as holy, including all of its residents and natural treasures, I think it’ll be great for everyone. Maybe then humanity would be able to use the incredible power of organized religion for good causes.
Today, February 25th, is the 20th anniversary of the cave of Patriarchs massacre in which an American born Jewish doctor killed 29 Palestinians while they were praying where Abraham, Jacob and Isaac are supposedly buried. The city of Hebron knew an even more terrible massacre in 1929, in which 67 Jews lost their lives and the rest escaped from the city. Many of the holy places in Israel-Palestine had some bloodshed in them. What we now recognize as the wailing wall plaza in Jerusalem used to be a the 800 years old Mughrabi Arab neighborhood that was demolished a few days after the 1967 war, in order to flatten the area for Jews to pray and gather there. Such actions, I believe, take away whatever holiness was in a place.
I don’t have a specific way to make such idea (I call it de-hollizing but maybe there’s a better name for it) a reality, if such idea is even a good idea. Adam of Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center had already showed a lot of excitement for managing a holy site in case the Jewish world would decide to de-hollinize Jerusalem and transfer its holy spirit to the beautiful retreat center in Connecticut (he was actually freaked out by the idea, I understand him). I imagine that a petition of many Rabbis declaring that they see holiness in every place and in each creature on earth and not only in few places or some graves might have a huge impact, but I’m neither a Rabbi nor an organizer. “De-hollinaizing”, like disarming, like dislike something that does very little to benefit a more peaceful future.
Demolition work of the Moroccan quarter
in order to create the wailing wall plaza,1967
Rabban Yokhanan Ben Zakai, which we named our son Zakai after, is famously recognized for transferring Judaism into an era of prayer and study from an era of sacrifying animals in the sake of worshiping God. His teaching during the distraction of the second temple that loving-kindness equal to sacrificing animals in its importance is one of my favorite quotes from the Jewish literature. Just saying.
Anyway, regardless of all that, this is the peace pole project, in which tens of thousands of poles were placed in more than 180 countries around the world with the sentence “may peace prevail earth” ישרה שלום עלי אדמות written on them in many different languages. I love this inspiring project.