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This cold, sunny day marks the end of my third week in Amman. Each day has brought new adventures, amazing views, new friends, and delicious food. From the moment I arrived, Amman has kept me busy with its beauty and incredible people. I have seen Jordan’s well-known hospitality in every corner, beginning with my first day in Amman as my host mom welcomed me home with a big hug and a warm meal. I live with a small family and have a new little sister.  We’ve become close really fast and have little dance parties every day when she comes back from school. My mom’s cooking outshines any other and her mom instincts are to feed me three times as much as I usually eat. My family has definitely been one of the highlights of my time here thus far.

Traveling has been another highlight from this trip and Jordan offers countless places to explore. My favorite has been Jerash, a small city just North of Amman. Along with a great group of friends, I explored the Greco-Roman settlement of Gerasa and admired the arches and columns of the Temple of Artemis. After enjoying the city’s history, we headed further up into the mountains and stayed in a small villa. Here, I witnessed the most beautiful sunset and views of the city. This charming place allowed me to take a peek at Jordan’s rural, peaceful way of life.

Classes have already begun and I have enrolled in thought-provoking courses as well as extensive Arabic learning classes. The professors are all extremely qualified and passionate about their work, which creates an even more intriguing learning environment. My favorite class, thus far, is Islam in the Modern Context, where my professor has created an open-discussion learning setting and encourages us to open our minds to controversial topics. CIEE has truly impressed me with its selection of great courses and professors.

While my experience here has been mostly positive, there have been some challenges. The language barrier has definitely been something to get used to. However, even though I have only been here for a little bit, I can already feel my Arabic skills improving and feel more confident in my speaking. Another challenge has been getting around the city and knowing where I am. The first week, I got lost every time I took a taxi and that created lots of anxiety. However, I have overcome this and can now direct my driver without a problem. While it was complicated at first, I can already say that I feel at home here in Amman.

For my next blog, I hope to share more of my travels around Jordan and other countries in the Middle East. I also hope to begin my research and learning on immigration and identity in Jordan.

Min shufak!

Shalom! My first few weeks in Israel have been so incredible and I couldn’t wait to share! I landed in Tel Aviv two weeks ago with so many emotions running through me. I was excited to be in one of my favorite cities, anxious about making friends, and naturally slightly concerned about safety. However all of my fears have been settled over the past few weeks. Tel Aviv is such an incredible city with a lively nightlife scene, picturesque beaches, and security measures like I’ve never seen. I am also fortunate to have the greatest roommates. We spend almost every weekend on the beach, eating hummus, and doing ulpan (intensive Hebrew) homework! Although life has been mostly carefree, I have stumbled upon some challenges in these past few weeks. The first challenge is the schedule of our ulpan. Our intensive Hebrew class is 8:30am-1pm from Sunday-Thursday with a test every week for four weeks. The teachers are incredibly talented and I am shocked at how great my Hebrew has gotten since I’ve been here. However, the schedule is very demanding and the amount of material can be overwhelming at times. The second challenge has been budgeting for city life. As we all know, DC is one of the most expensive cities and I assumed that TLV, like some other major Middle Eastern cities, would be relatively inexpensive and affordable. In reality, Tel Aviv is definitely comparable to Washington DC in terms of living expenses, which is something I wish I budgeted more for. Lastly, one of the biggest differences between Israel and America is Shabbat. Shabbat is observed from Friday afternoon-Saturday afternoon. Because of Tel Aviv’s secular society, some stores and restaurants are still open, however most of the city does shut down which makes travel and social gatherings very difficult. Despite the smaller challenges I have faced, I am looking forward to traveling within Israel and to other countries, starting regular classes, and continuing my education on Israel and all it has to offer. Lehitra’ot!

By Mikayla Brody

My stomach is bouncing somewhere above Greenland, already corroded by anxiety.

My lungs already dried and compressed by the recycled ‘air’.

My eyes soured by the batallions of tiny glowing screens. And yet, I’m really okay.

Maybe its the eleven men who rose at daybreak to gather their tfillin and recite their morning prayers, because God still exists on an airplane.

Maybe its seeing everybody's untied shoes scattered between the aisles and everybody's scrunched up foreheads as they desperately try to get just 5 minutes more sleep because they have a life to live when they land.

Maybe its my complimentary, Maple syrup cookies that make me happy because someone tried to make something different and make me sad because the difference wasn’t good and I just wanted chocolate chip. Maybe these things make me feel a little bit better, a little less alone on my voyage.

I tried listening to a bunch of different podcasts to pass the time. I figured that going hour by hour on podcast would seem faster than minute by minute songs. I am on a giant metal bird, soaring through the sky and I am trying to pass time. Make things move quicker than they already are at 626 miles per hour at 37,000 feet.

Rush to the good part, Mikayla.

Rush to when we arrive, rush to move-in day, rush to going out with strangers on a Saturday night and coming back as friends, rush to classes starting, rush to me blowing off work for the classes and getting bored with the classes and getting bored with my friends and getting bored with the city, and rush to come home. 5 months. Where?

I used to think that 5 months would be a long time.

My stomach is bouncing somewhere between the ocean and the street corner I puked on two nights ago, already corroded by anxiety of how to get the most out of my time in Tel Aviv. My desperate quest to remind myself that I am in a far off land.

Overgrown jungle gardens draped over balconies of shuffled and shuttered apartment buildings; toes stretching out over the fronts of neon Havianas waiting to cross from the sand to the sidewalks; frequent eye contact, less frequent smiles.

Pregaming cocktails of Arak and Tequila with cocktails of kale and beet juice; worshiping God and praying for salvation then praying for a new dress and worshipping how you'll look in the mirror.

Sometimes I forget that I am here, sometimes I remember and start to cry.

Sometimes I forget that I am not here forever, sometimes I remember and start to cry.

By Joy Kayode

اهلاً وسهلاً،

UPDATE: Crossing into month 2 of studying abroad in Amman, all is well and I have my research project solidified and ready to go! For the last month I will spend in Amman, I will be interning at Envision Consulting Group. The firm is headed by the former Minister for Economic Affairs, H.E. Dr. Yusuf Mansur. I will be examining the prospects for future economic stimulation, revitalization, and growth in Jordan. Before I go into detail about my research, let me first tell you all about a volunteer project that I was involved in last month! As I mentioned in the first blog post, a major component of SIT is experiential learning. One of the methods of experiential learning that sets SIT apart from most study abroad programs is its incorporation of international excursions into the program curriculum. My program traveled to the United Arab Emirates for a week, and as you all can probably imagine, it was a wonderful and action-packed adventure.

We arrived to Dubai on Saturday, October 13th and we had SO many activities planned for our time there. The most meaningful and impactful of these activities was the day we spent in Ajman. This day was the most impactful for me because we were given the opportunity to participate in a service learning or an act of community service in the Emirate. On Thursday of that week, we traveled to the Emirate of Ajman (which is about 45 minutes away from Dubai) to spend the day with Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Ali bin Rashid Al Nuaimi. The Sheikh is known internationally for being a global leader, an active and resilient environmentalist, and a social campaigner in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC), as well as throughout  the Arab World. If you noticed the title “Sheikh” before his name, you’re on to something! His Highness is a member of the Ajman Royal Family (which is the ruling party of Ajman). His Highness is considered to be a change agent for Environmental Planning, and long-term strategist and contributor to sustainability efforts in the UAE. Due to his years of work in studying and advocating for sustainable energy and environmental policies, the Sheikh is also known around the world by his self-bestowed nickname, the Green Sheikh.

Our day was filled with a series of lectures, motivational speeches, activities, and a visit to Ajman Museum, which was the former housing complex of the royal family. It wasn’t until the second to last component of our day that the complete purpose of this trip was internally cemented. The purpose of our day with the Sheikh centered around service to others. Reflecting upon that day, I don’t believe that SIT could have established a better relationship with anyone else. I am confident in my saying that because the Sheikh also serves as the CEO of the Al Ihsan Charity Association. The goal of the organization is to lead effectively in the social work of the United Arab Emirates, but specifically Ajman, with compassion and effective actions. The vision and method of implementation are based on the integration of local-community efforts towards achieving a better life for the needy people and less fortunate families who look after them every day by the organization he oversees. My peers and I had the opportunity to serve the citizens of Ajman by participating in a food donation distribution. Al Ihsan routinely distributes packages of food containing: cereal, milk, juice, yogurt, cooking spices, and additional food items to members of the community who are in need. According to the organization, these individuals primarily tend to be widows, orphans, and low income families, in addition to any other members of the community that are in need. This food drive is just ONE of the twenty plus initiatives fueled by Al Ihsan.

Another area of the charity that I was touched by was the Al Ihsan Medical Complex. The center runs on donations given to the Al Ihsan Charity Association from international, regional, and local benefactors. The complex started in 2003 as one of the projects of Al Ihsan Charity Association to provide medical care and treatment for all society segments of the poor, needy, orphans and the widows, and more than 3000 families. Services offered at the center include: Clinics of Internal Medicine, Pediatric, Dental, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Sonar, Cardiology, General Nursing, Laboratory, Pharmacy and Cupping. Upon touring the complex, it was invaluable to share a few laughs and conversations (in Arabic, of course) with some patients waiting to receive treatment. The Medical Complex is extremely efficient in its intake and management of monetary, medical, and miscellaneous donations. Therefore, the impact of organization is far-reaching and all-encompassing in one way or another.

If I was not able to derive anything from SIT Jordan: Geopolitics’ day with the Sheikh, the one thing that was made abundantly clear. The Sheikh, his family, the Al Ihsan volunteers, and the people of Ajman truly understand the impact that any given individual can have on someone’s life. A towering emphasis is placed upon service in this community. I truly believe that with service etched into the forefront of any community, the only direction that the community can go is forward. I am very proud and honored to have been able to interact with the citizens of Ajman for a day.

Fortunately, I did not encounter any international or domestic issues that hindered or affected my volunteer work in any way. As my internship and research work have been approved and are scheduled to begin in one week, I don’t anticipate running into any issues in researching and ultimately volunteering with any organization in Amman.

I don’t believe that my service efforts in Ajman were overshadowed. Similar to the people of Ajman, I understand the importance of person to person interactions from the most basic to the most meaningful of ways. Being able to shake the hands and looking into the eyes of the citizens who received food packages, I am confident that we made a lasting affect in their lives. For another week, these families don’t have to worry about where the next meal will come from. I don’t do community service projects for myself. I don’t do it for the recognition and I don’t do it to receive anything in return. With this clear mentality going into our day of service, I was able to surmise that our contributions were meaningful and will continue to be impactful because of our genuineness.

Well, this was a long post! Thank you all for sticking with me on this journey! Can’t wait to talk to you all next month for my final blog post!!! P.s. Please enjoy the pictures below!

شكرا كتير، يعطيكم العافية و مع سلامة يا شباب!

By Joy Kayode

اهلاً وسهلاً اساحبي، (Welcome my friends,)
كيفكم؟ (How are you all?)

I hope all is well! I’ve officially been in Amman for over a month and I am STILL in love! Holistically, SIT Jordan Geopolitics could not have been a better fit for my learning style and my current academic interests.

This month’s topic is about the research and volunteer work that I plan to participate in while I’m abroad. As I mentioned in the previous post, I will be pursuing a research project centered primarily around economic development throughout Jordan. My research/internship will be solidified by the next post. So get ready for A LOT of details next month! Before starting any research, I believe that by partnering with a Jordanian institution I will have the opportunity to contribute to the preexisting body of research about the future of Jordanian economic policy. I want to begin researching this topic with the prospect of offering a new or fresh perspective on the subject. If I am able to answer the questions I have, and pose new questions from them, or lead someone to think about something in a different way, I will feel like I am making a genuine difference.

Although, at this particular moment my research project is not finalized, (therefore I have been unable to start) I do anticipate running into a few challenges. For instance, the fact of the matter is although I have been taking Arabic for the past two years, I am still new to this language. Being a non-native Arabic speaker, I can anticipate running into some challenges translating and comprehending some of the high-level or more specialized Economics vocabulary. However, I have to keep in mind that any challenges that I might encounter are not unique to Joy. These challenges can stem from anywhere and it is my responsibility to be persistent and work towards overcoming them. Another challenge I anticipate running into is the time period for which I will be in Amman. Of the places I’ve reached out to, some establishments have expressed hesitation in offering research positions for someone who is only able to work for a limited period of time. Like any other obstacle I might encounter, I will work closely with SIT, determine the most feasible organizations moving forward, and develop and readjust my path of research as needed.

Another very important issue that I don’t believe is emphasized as much, is the importance of maintaining a realistic budget. Managing the weekly stipend that I am allotted has been difficult to maneuver around. Realistically, 50 dinars (approx. $70 USD) can last a week, but it can very easily last just one or two days. In order to not blow through all of the money that I saved up over the summer, I decided to assess how much I was spending in a week, what I was spending it on, and how many of these things were complete necessities. I was able to decide that I don’t need to buy a Mini Chicken Makers Meal from Burger Makers (think Jordanian Chick fil-A) every. single. day. After some trial and error, I realized that if I didn’t spend all of my money on monetary wants, I will have more money left for necessities. Then I could purchase my splurge items and not feel guilty about it! If you’re reading this and you may be considering studying abroad, don’t let this discourage you! During anytime in your life and throughout any situation, I’m positive that you will be able to find a solution that will work out in your favor! Even if it doesn’t seem that way at first! Keep pushing and keep fighting! I’ll be doing the same, only halfway across the world!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Take care and talk to you all next month!

مع السلامة ولك حقا،
جوي كيودي

By Mikayla Brody

Among my family's pots and pans and stacks of magazines on the kitchen counter there were always two candlesticks rising above the rest of the clutter. They were clustered with fingerprint stains and coated with thick gobs of wax but somehow still retained their bronze-ish shine. And every Friday night since my grandpa passed away, my dad would make me stop what I was doing to light them.

I would yank myself from my bed, strike a match, and spit out a poorly pronounced version of a Hebrew prayer on fast-forward before racing out of the house to go hang with friends at the movies. The entire 'ritual' lasted maybe two minutes. But even though I was going through the motions, I was completely missing the point.

The lighting of these two candles is supposed to be a pause. It's supposed to usher in the weekly Jewish day of rest - Shabbat- but I treated it as an obligation and an inconvenience. I didn't really understand the true purpose and power of Shabbat until I came to Israel and was forced to experience it.

From Friday night to Saturday night, most of Israel shuts down. Stores are closed, buses don't run, and the streets are quiet. For the very religious, Shabbat means turning off your electronics and turning on your connection with God and your family. For me, this means a bigger hassle to get to the beach and a pretty boring day off. The first Shabbat here in Tel Aviv, I spent the entire day frantically searching for something to do. I did my yoga, I did my homework, and I did my writing, but those tasks only preoccupied me for about 4 hours. The rest of the day was spent trying to make work for myself. I took myself on a needlessly long walk and began googling potential internships for 6 months from now.

Both of the following Shabbats here have been spent meticulously trying to finagle a cheap and quick way to get to the beach and manufacture a false sense of productivity by getting tan and being with others. But for all of these days, I was completely missing the point. I was restlessly and relentlessly maintaining my need to be in a constant state of 'doing'. Whether that meant going out or doing work, I still felt the overwhelming desire to seize the day and to feel accomplished. There was no rest.

While the idea of Shabbat initially came from the Old Testament over 25 centuries ago, it still has important lessons for us today. It is an intentional opportunity to digest all the chaos of the past week and to reset for the coming week. And in Israel, whether you want to or not, the city does all that it can to encourage you to slow down and check in.

Despite my clinging to the American, constantly restless way of life, I'm slowly teaching myself that it is okay to take it easy and that it is productive in a less immediate way but a more profound way. When we give ourselves the space and the permission to slow down, we are creating a more resilient and healthy body and mind, ready to tackle all of the other crazy tasks of the days ahead. Like a perfect loaf of challah bread, we must give ourselves the time and the space to rise. Without this time for rest, the bread can stretch too thin and crack.

By Joy Kayode

مرحبا، السلام عليكم، اهلاً وسهلاً!

Hello, peace be upon you and welcome! These are three widespread and standard greetings in the Arabic language. These, along with “my name is…”, were the first Arabic phrases I learned when I began studying the language over two years ago. I am currently enrolled in a study abroad program with the School for International Learning (SIT). The name of my program is called SIT Jordan: Geopolitics, International Relations, and the Future of the Middle East. The primary focus of this program is for those enrolled to learn about the Middle East’s politics, shifting power configurations, and efforts to promote peace and global security from Jordan, a peace broker in the region. The program-led extracurricular activities are tailored to accompany the efforts within the classroom. This semester, the program accepted 30 students from universities across the United States.

There are four core components that make this program unique to SIT and particularly appealing to students of all academic backgrounds. It was these very components that constituted my decision to study abroad in Amman. The courses in the program couldn’t be a better fit for my specific course of study. I am currently a junior studying International Affairs with a concentration in Security Policy and a minor in Arabic Studies. The following classes are being offered in the Fall 2018 curriculum: Geopolitics, International Relations, and the Future of the Middle East, The Psychology of Peace, Beginning, Intermediate, or Advanced Modern Standard Arabic or Colloquial Jordanian Dialect (3 or 6 credits), and Research Methods and Ethics. The number of Arabic credits that a student elects to take determines whether the student takes the Psychology of Peace course. This brings me to the most important reason why I decided to pick SIT. Transfer credits. I can transfer Geopolitics, Research Methods, and (potentially) Arabic. Because Arabic at GW is 4 credits, I have opted to take the 6 credit Arabic course so that I don’t run into any complications when transferring credit back. The courses encourage interaction with local Jordanian citizens to some degree. I can tell that these interactions will be an invaluable portion of the program from what I have already experienced.

My program will be traveling throughout the United Arab Emirates in order to learn more about the history of the Emirates, the expat work force, and geo-economics and international business in the Gulf. Additionally, we will visit upwards of 10 historically/culturally significant sites throughout Central and Southern Jordan. Both of these visits are a part of SIT’s efforts to provide diversified immersive experiences for participants.

The homestay is believed to be the most integral part of the SIT experience. Within the first two weeks of being in Amman I have become a member of a local Jordanian family of Palestinian descent. I have shared meals with them, joined them for special occasions/gatherings, spoken with them in completely in Arabic (emphasis on completely), and experiencing Amman as they do daily.

Students have the opportunity to either create and conduct their own research projects or participate in an internship with a local community organization, research organization, business, or international NGO for a four-week period. I have decided to do an internship, but the location is still undetermined. Once I finalize my internship site, you all will be the first to know!

While in Amman, I plan to engage in a series of volunteer/research efforts that involve economic development (economic stimulation efforts) that will uncover or contribute to strategies aimed at bolstering Jordan’s economy. Although I don’t know the exact organization that I will be interning at, I know that the research I plan partake in will be a part of my internship. If I choose to further my research or volunteer work outside of my internship, I am more than able to explore these avenues. With my specified yet broad area of research, I believe that I will be able to comply an equal amount of qualitative and quantitative results.

All in all, I am excited for what the future holds for me and my research in Amman! I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and I look forward to writing next month! Until then, please enjoy these photos of the Queen Alia International Airport, the Roman Theater, the Amman Citadel, me on a camel, and me attending a traditional Jordanian/Greek/Syrian wedding (on my birthday – September 12th) which by far has been the highlight of my trip!

مع السلامة ولك حقا، (Good-bye and yours truly)
جوي كيودي (Joy Kayode)

By Mikayla Brody

It seems like every time I tell a friend or family member that I will be studying abroad in Israel for the Fall, they don't understand why I would have any desire to go there, let alone live there. And, partially, I don't blame them. They see what their television or phone screen chooses to show them: a war-torn, barren desert rampant with crazed terrorists and terrorists-to-be. But these headlines neglect to depict the bigger picture. They forget to include the enchanting emptiness of the desert or the colorful clutter and languages of the souks. They forget to include the people.

And yet, we often let these headlines frame our judgement on a region that we don't know anything about and have never actually experienced. Many of us simply accept the narrative that others feed to us and are fine with that. It's easy to do- we then don't have to go to the trouble of meeting people ourselves and gathering our own information and challenging our paradigm.

This is all to say that our current political situation and relations with the Middle East are actually all the more reason to travel there. With a growing lack of understanding between Arabic and Western people, I believe the best way to build this understanding is by showing up. Showing who you are and asking questions and seeking to understand a different way of life. Maybe you'll see that some clichés are true or maybe that some are not so true. Maybe you'll see that your peers' judgement was correct or maybe not so correct. But no matter what, you're making a connection.

You're putting a face and a family to a headline, something you can relate to and understand. Egypt is no longer its government structure or its ancient pyramids -- it's the people you've met along the way. The Middle East is no longer a blurry photo of a terrorist on the news, but a cook with a collection of vintage vases and lanterns or hotel owner who accidentally tripped on the stairs and bruised his rib. We have the opportunity to actually see the people.

And it works both ways... the United States is no longer Trump's America or McDonalds, but a collection of diverse human people just trying to love well and do good. These stereotypes don't have to dictate the way we perceive other people and the resentment that these stereotypes carry doesn't have to be there.

We choose to base our stereotypes on what separates us from others. They're Muslims, we're Christians. They're darker-skinned, we're lighter-skinned. They, we. But what would happen if we chose to look at the similarities? How would our relationship with others change if we saw others first as humans, parents, children, teachers, artists, lovers? Maybe at some point along the way, we'll realize we have more in common with each other than we do differences. Maybe we'll realize that the parts of us that we have in common matter more. But this doesn't happen without being present, physically and mentally.

We've tried a politics of capital gains and stepping on others' toes, maybe its time to start a more human form of politics - a politics of civilian diplomacy. By traveling to another country, whether you intend to or not, you're representing a piece of your country. We have the power to make a good impression and facilitate a greater universal compassion. But it will take more than a bunch of lawyers in government buildings. It requires individuals seeking an honest connection with other individuals and developing a mutual respect.

So why now? Well, why not now? It's easy to put things off for a better time. "I'll travel when it's more politically stable" or "I start practicing yoga when I can touch my toes" or "I'll learn a new language when I have more time." There will always be an excuse to delay somewhere you've been wanting to go or something you've been wanting to try, not necessarily because there is a better time but because it's easier to stick with the status quo.

To place yourself in a new and potentially uncomfortable situation, like traveling to a lesser-travelled area, is often super daunting and the mind would love to keep you in a space of sheltered routine. So our task is to mindfully decide when we should override this self-protection mechanism and just go for it. There's no time like the present, especially when the present gives us such a huge opportunity to mend broken connections.

So yes, this is also why I chose to study abroad in the Middle East. Not because I am from here, or have extensively studied it in my university classes, but because it's the corner of the world I know the least about. I'm here to learn and absorb and meet people and be really uncomfortable for a bit. I've been in Israel for about 5 days now just kind of soaking it all in before the hectic-ness of my program starts and holy heck I'm scared. I've had my fair share of freakouts, wondering if I made a huge mistake dedicating myself to this place for five months but I think that's the good stuff. I'm ready to be uncomfortable and just see what comes up.

By Jacqueline Mai

I’ve spent nearly 3 weeks in Israel, and each Shabbat experience has been different. After the first week, my roommate invited us to a Shabbat dinner on the lawn of a Hebrew University dorm, and I spent that Saturday walking around Jerusalem’s Old City and praying at the Western Wall. The following week, a few classmates and I embarked on a weekend excursion in which we explored Nazareth, Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee, Tzfat, Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea. We ushered in Shabbat in Tzfat, making shakshuka in our small Airbnb kitchen. The next morning, we raced down the country to make it to Ein Gedi—a nature reserve—and Masada before both parks closed.

Though both weekends were memorable—in that they allowed for the fostering of friendships and exploration—they lacked the restfulness that is commonly associated with Shabbat. I realized that I craved time and aloneness for introspection, so I decided to spend my last Shabbat in a way that would make those things possible. Though I had only spent a very short amount of time in Tzfat—enough to walk around the Old City—I realized how much I liked it, and vowed to return. There was still so much to see. I also understood Tzfat to be a very spiritual city, home to respected Jewish mystics from centuries ago. As a person in the process of converting to Judaism, I felt that it would only be right that I spend the holiest of holidays in the one of the holiest of cities.

I arrived in Tzfat a little after noon on Friday, and checked into my hotel. My partner had suggested that I find a nice place for myself in order to feel some semblance of a vacation, so I opted for the Rosenthalis Hotel, which lies on the edge of Tzfat’s Artist Gallery. My room—which was atop a series of cobblestone steps, allowing me to see the rolling hills of the Galilee—contained curated paintings by Moshe Rosenthalis, an 20th century Lithuanian-Israeli abstract artist.

...continue reading "One last Shabbat in Tzfat"

By Jacqueline Mai

The most difficult yet captivating exhibit installed in the Israel Museum is Christian Boltanski’s Lifetime. Sprawled across a series of large rooms, Lifetime’s motifs consist of massive, sheer curtains printed with close-up portraits of anonymous individuals (some lost in the Holocaust), black coats hung on makeshift mannequins, the ringing of windchimes, and tangled strings of lights. The eerie silence of the exhibit is only intermittently interrupted by the soundtrack of a subway conductor announcing imaginary stops. In addition, there is an enormous stopwatch attached to the wall, counting down.

Boltanski seemed to explore his own views of mortality—and by extension, memory—through his motifs. There are times throughout the exhibit in which the strings of lights connecting the victims’ portraits (symbolizing yahrzeit or memorial candles) were not lit—perhaps to signify how easy it is for the memory of a individual to evaporate, or not exist at all. Inversely, the close-up portraits of the victims’ eyes—printed on sheer white curtains—could also signify how easy it is to lose sight of the core components of the individual upon scrutiny. In his work, Boltanski asks how we can best uphold the memories of those who are no longer with us, and how we ourselves wish to be remembered.

(Lifetime is open at the Israel Museum until October 31, 2018).

...continue reading "Reflecting on Christian Boltanski’s Lifetime exhibit"