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Art, Craft & Jewish National Identity

The founding of the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts by Boris Schatz in 1906 marks the beginning of a new period of Jewish artistic activity in the Land of Israel. Built in Jerusalem, the school was named for the artisan selected by God to build the Tabernacle. Its aesthetic was informed not only by the European traditions that artists brought with them, but also by the nationalist Zionist ideal that pervaded the consciousness of these new arrivals. Bezalel carried with it the artistic aspirations of a people as well as the kernel of a crafts industry that, it was hoped, would bring newfound productivity and economic viability to the Jewish population of Jerusalem.

This exhibition focuses on the period between the founding of Bezalel and the school's temporary closing in 1929. Both the sacred and secular worlds of early 20th century Jewish life were represented in Bezalel's output during these years. The school and its affiliated workshops produced prayer-book bindings, menorahs, and illustrated sacred scrolls along with coffeepots, rugs, and artillery-shell vases. These objects combined to create a graphically striking narrative of Jewish history that gave the burgeoning nation a visual identity, both at home and around the world.

Historically, the geographic area that includes the modern State of Israel has been called by many names. During the years covered by this exhibition (1906 –1929), the region was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1917 and thereafter ruled by the British. The most commonly used designations for the area were Land of Israel, Palestine, and Holy Land. These names were used by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. In this exhibition, the terms have been used interchangeably.