Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
The Schmooze

Architects and Artists Building the Jewish State

The half-century before the declaration of Israel’s statehood was a time of wild artistic ferment. Some of the nuances of the feverish creativity in the realm of architecture are described by two studies from Ashgate Publishing, “Constructing a Sense of Place: Architecture and the Zionist Discourse” edited by Haim Yacobi and “Architecture and Utopia. The Israeli Experiment” by Michael and Bracha Chyutin.

Further confirmation of the rapid innovation, should it be needed, is available in a 2011 work so far only available in Hebrew, “Architecture in Palestine During the British Mandate, 1917-1948”, by Ada Karmi-Melamede and Dan Price, published by the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art. And by another title out in late 2011 from GTA Verlag, “Europe in Palestine: Architects of the Zionist project 1902-1923.” The site-specific innovations occurred from crossing artistic and stylistics genres for inspiration, even looking to unlikely and highly un-biblical sources.

Written by historian Ita Heinze-Greenberg, who has previously published volumes about the German Jewish modernist architect Erich Mendelsohn, “Europe in Palestine” has a wide scope, including the way visual artists aimed at evolving a new synthesis in the Holy Land. This includes the art nouveau prints of Ephraim Moses Lilien, much influenced by the turn-of-the-century British decadent artist Aubrey Beardsley.

Heinze-Greenberg reproduces a Beardsleyesque 1902 illustration by Lilien to a poem by the Yiddish author Morris Rosenfeld in which among a group of male nudes, 19th century versions of erotic Greek vase paintings, appears an unmistakable portrait of Theodor Herzl, his modesty preserved by a flower which blooms in the image’s foreground as fig-leaf.

The Galician-born Lilien, sometimes called the “first Zionist artist,” blended ancient Greek and modernist elements to arrive at a new vocabulary. Others, such as the Lithuanian Jewish artist and sculptor Boris Schatz, who in 1906 founded Jerusalem’s Bezalel School, saw Zionism as a chance to blend his own Jewish identity and creative urges. Blending Eastern and Western motifs, Schatz’s approach earned the patronizing scorn of C. R. Ashbee, then-civic adviser to the British Mandate of Palestine and chairman of the Pro-Jerusalem Society. In a later memoir, Ashbee was condescending about the “happy, breezy, if somewhat pathetic personality of old Professor Schatz” and dismissed Bezalel as a “brilliant failure” in its attempt to derive a “Jewish style, something that should signify the living Zionism in Palestine, was possible.”

Fortunately others were less pessimistic, including multi-talented architect Alexander Baerwald, best remembered for his buildings in Haifa, who was also a gifted cellist who performed in a Berlin string quartet for which Albert Einstein was the second violinist. The Frankfurt-born architect Richard Kauffmann played second fiddle to no one in his ambitious town planning, as Heinze-Greenberg’s narrative also compellingly explains.

Watch a video about Boris Schatz and the Bezalel School.

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.