The Willy Brandt Center was honoured to welcome Ella Milch-Sheriff and David Pountney, both international opera stars, for a panel featuring Mieczysław Weinberg’s composition “The Passenger” on April 8th, 2019.
Composer Ella Milch-Sheriff is one of Israel’s most performed composers in recent years. Several of her creations, such as “And the Rat Laughed”, “The Banality of Love” and “Baruch’s Silence”, engage with stories from the holocaust and touch on the history of her own family.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg, then a young Jewish composer, fled the advancing German troops in 1939 and crossed the border into the Soviet Union, where he stayed and worked tirelessly until the end of his life.
British-Polish theatre and opera director and librettist David Pountney is known for his productions of rarely performed operas, and his new productions of classic works. In 2010 he staged the premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera “The Passenger”, which deals with guilt and its repression after the Holocaust, and tells the story of women prisoners transported to Auschwitz from all over the world. Based on a novel by Zofia Posmysz, a Polish Auschwitz survivor, Weinberg’s masterpiece had been concealed for more than 40 years and became “somehow itself a real survivor”, as noted by David Pountney. Originally produced by the Bregenz Festival, the highly successful production led to the rediscovery of its composer, Weinberg, and was later staged at the opera houses of Warsaw, London, Houston, New York, Miami, Chicago. In April of this year the production has travelled also to Israel, where it was presented at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.
The panel discussion invoked intricate questions such as how to remain human and humane in a place that has lost all human form, and what role do the arts play when it comes to the murderous oppression of the powerless by the powerful.
Even the nightmare of Auschwitz is a human story, explained David Puntney. “The Passenger” presents young women, victim and perpetrator; one at each side of the fence. “it’s the story about the narrow difference about a human being that is doing the right thing and a human being that is doing a wrong thing,” continued Pountney, as “the role of art is to look at the most difficult subjects”.
During the discussion, when the question arose whether the holocaust should be represented in artistic performances, both artists agreed that music has the means to express what perhaps cannot be expressed in any other way; not only does it have the power to touch its audience and trigger a deeper compassion and understanding, it also enables us to heal open wounds.
To mark the International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Willy Brandt Center organized a panel discussion on women’s status in the arts. The guests of the panel were long-time manager of the Barenboim Said Foundation in Ramallah, Muna Khleifi, art historian and director of the Negev Museum of Art, Dalia Manor, and co-founder of the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, Masha Zusman.
Each panel member spoke of her background and presented her work and experience in the field of art. The panel encompassed today’s challenges, opportunities, creative concepts and visions for the future.
One of the problems that were discussed is the lack of documentation and representation of female art creation, which leads to a lack of knowledge about great women artists over the centuries. Another issue that was mentioned is the market value of male artists, which is still higher than that of female artists.
All participants agreed that the situation has improved over the last decades and that the number of women working in the arts has risen. Nevertheless, to a large extent women are still excluded from management, and many major decisions are left to men.
The large attending audience engaged in a lively discussion, offering their experiences from other fields and different countries.
The conclusion was that there is still a long way to go to reach equality. Nevertheless, the panel ended with the optimistic encouragement of women to promote each other and to act in solidarity in order to overcome social limitations and obstacles.
Illustration: WBC – International women’s day postcard, designed for WBC by Dorit Bialer (2019)
The Willy Brandt Center team was delighted to welcome for the first time the internationally celebrated Tel Aviv Wind Quintet. Its members, Roy Amotz (flute), Yigal Kaminka (oboe), Itamar Leshem (horn), Nadav Cohen (bassoon) and Danny Erdman (clarinet), prepared a program composed of classics and masterpieces of the 20th century. Music lovers from the whole region gathered to hear the popular ensemble and filled our center’s hall.
The Tel Aviv Wind Quintet was founded in 2009 by young Israeli musicians seeking to bring the wonderful woodwind repertoire, as well as commissioned works, to wider audiences. Today, the quintet performs at the most distinguished concert halls all around Israel, Europe and Asia. What made the evening at the Willy Brandt Center so special was the intimate and cosy ambiance, creating an atmosphere of “chamber music” in every sense. The artists and audience soon found themselves interacting with each other, discussing the meaning behind the performed musical pieces, and talking about composers and instruments. The personal and lively encounter continued long after the concert, as the audience and musicians shared individual concert experiences and philosophised about music.
We are looking forward to the ensemble’s return to our center in the near future, and to further cooperate on workshop and concert projects with these wonderful musicians and young Israeli and Palestinian talents.
On January 17th the Willy Brandt Center was delighted to host the book launch of “The German Political Foundations’ Work between Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv” edited by Anna Abelmann and Katharina Konarek.
The German political foundations are a unique phenomenon which maintains an important position within the German foreign policy. The new book examines the history, potential influence, scope of action, prospects and limits of these foundations, with a specific focus on current developments in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
The two editors presented their publication, which highlights the foundations’ work from anthropological, political and regulatory perspectives, and included a collection of historical case studies.
Anna Abelmann and Katharina Konarek where later joined by Marc Frings from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ramallah and Judith Stelmach from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Tel Aviv, for a lively panel discussion moderated by Judith Höffkes. We were honoured to welcome to our audience several authors who contributed to the book, and happy to see many local partners who shared their impressions and reflections on the topic.
On January 10th 2019 the educational and volunteering program “Achvat Amim – Solidarity of Nations” celebrated its fifth anniversary. The program was initiated five years ago, when its directors, Karen Isaacs and Daniel Roth, both educators from the HaShomer HaTzair World Movement, raised a simple yet radical query: How can we build a movement that struggles for peace, justice and self-determination for all people who call Israel and Palestine their homes? Isaacs and Roth decided to start by building an educational program in which participants from all over the world, and from the Jewish diaspora in particular, will live communally for five months in the center of Jerusalem. During this time the participants would learn about the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict through grassroots volunteering and seminar days which will introduce them to a wide range of issues and perspectives. Five years later, it is clear that the program is prominent in the way it connects the study of Jewish tradition, history and values with the struggle for social justice and visions for a peaceful shared existence in Jerusalem and the region.
Achvat Amim has been a long standing partner of the WBC and hosted many seminars and language classes in the Center. Hence, it was our honour to host Achvat Amim’s 10th anniversary celebration, during which the guests – including the current cohort, many alumni and partners from the wider community – reflected on the past years and shared their visions for the years to come. A particular highlight of the evening was the musical performances, which filled the seminar room with warm and joyful singing and guitar playing.
The Jerusalem Open Forum at the Willy Brandt Center took place from the 11th to the 13th of October 2018, under the title “Past and Future Reﬂection and Creation“.
After a vernissage presenting the project „Promise Me a Land“ on October 11th the ﬁrst day of the Jerusalem Open Forum kicked off on the 12th of October with our dynamic Workshop on Peace Education, and included Israeli and Palestinian youth movements. Based on a strong belief in education as a way to bridge divides and to change society for the better, the workshop offered an opportunity to meet and learn ﬁrst hand about new approaches to peace education.
In the afternoon we were honoured to host Prof. Ali Qleibo, a prestigious Palestinian ethnographer and an expert on Jerusalem’s social history. Prof. Qleibo presented his research titled “The History of the Abu Tor Neighbourhood and the House of the Willy Brandt Center”.
Commissioned by the Willy Brandt Center, Prof. Qleibo conducted this intense academic and oral research over the past months, including numerous interviews with former and current inhabitants of Abu Tor. Step by step, he uncovered the fascinating story of an Armenian family, originally from Turkey, who built the house in which the Willy Brandt Center is located today. His presentation offered further engaging insights on the Christian and Muslim history of Abu Tor and its suburban background.
We celebrated the ofﬁcial opening of the Jerusalem Open Forum with a unique jazz concert in our garden tent, including the world premiere of an international ensemble whose members are Burak Baysun, Heidi Caviezel, Bakr Khleiﬁ, Philipp Kienberger, Lukas Leitner and Lukas Schiemer.
We were grateful for the kind opening words of Christian Clages, Head of Mission of the German Representative Ofﬁce in Ramallah, Martina Wichmann-Bruche, Head of Labour and Social Affairs at the German Embassy Tel Aviv, and to Jana Herrmann, Chairwoman of the German Falken Youth Movement.
The second day of the Jerusalem Open Forum began with a fascinating workshop discussing urban development and the role of history, archaeology and narratives in this process.
The following presentation, titled “Peace Building and the production of place – A Jerusalem Dilemma”, was given by the award-winning architect Prof. Omar Yousef, who discussed the politics that have shaped the unique development of East Jerusalem since 1967.
The participants were then invited to follow Yonathan Mizrachi, archeologist and executive director of Emek Shaveh, on a walking tour and discover the Hinnom valley where history, ancient sites, and political interests are intertwined, at the edge of the Abu Tor neighborhood.
Back at the Willy Brandt Center, Dion Nissenbaum, a Wall Street Journal reporter and author, who has travelled to Jerusalem especially to participate in our Forum, presented “The Alley of God: The Promise and Pitfalls of Life on Jerusalem’s Dividing Line“. Nissenbaum focused on Abu Tor’s Assael Street, which neighbors the Willy Brandt Center and which has functioned as Jerusalem’s political, cultural, and physical divide between Israeli and Palestinian residents since 1948.
The grand ﬁnale of this year’s Jerusalem Open Forum was a concert performance by the world-renowned violoncellist and sound designer, Lukas Lauermann. The concert was presented in cooperation with the Austrian Cultural Forum Tel Aviv. Lauermann invited his audience to tune in to spaces of memory, chambers of sensation and places of yearning. He also spoke about the development of his creations that were inﬂuenced by the large wave of immigration to Austria, in all its complexities. As music critic Pamela Hickman highlighted in her review “alongside many beautiful ‘cello sounds’ the harsh moments of these works symbolically requested the listener not to fear what seems strange and different.“
During both days of the Jerusalem Open Forum, we, the Willy Brandt Center team, were delighted to welcome large numbers of local and international visitors. We are deeply grateful for the many inspiring encounters and would like thank all of our friends and partners who supported us this year.
“Promise Me a Land” is a project by French Photographer Clement Chapillon which focuses on the bond between people and their land, with the aim to explore the imprint that this land has left on its inhabitants’ identity, in a manner far from traditional clichés.
The project was presented in an exhibition at the Willy Brandt Center in cooperation with the Institut français de Jérusalem Romain Gary, from the 11th of October to the 18th.
Clement Chapillon visited Israel and Palestine in different seasons and experimented with the variation of landscapes, colors, and landforms. He soon felt the need to include in his work the voices of the people he had met. He ventured out to investigate the various dimensions of the seemingly unalterable relationships and ties between people and their land: what marks has the land imprinted on their identity? What hopes, fantasies, and promises remain? To explore this attachment between the land and its inhabitants, he interviewed and photographed people in cities, villages, settlements and kibbutzim. They told him about their lives and their dreams upon this land. A humane, sensitive picture emerged, forming a photographic narrative that Chapillon wishes to convey; its images are immersed in an artistic experience and bring to new light the roots of Israel and Palestine.
The Willy Brandt Center was proud to be given the opportunity to present Clement Chapillon’s project for the first time in the region which is portrayed in his work.
Previous to the project’s presentation at our center, it was published in media and newspapers (such as Die Zeit, Le monde, Arte, L’OBS), exhibited in several festivals and has won the Leica Prize 2017 which allowed Chapillon to present a solo show at the Leica Galery in Paris in April 2018.
Earlier this year, Clement Chapillon published a book titled “Promise Me a Land“, which is a unique patchwork of words, portraits and landscapes. This deeply personal testimony reflects the Israeli-Palestinian mosaic from a profoundly humane perspective. The book, which was published by the German Kehrer Verlag, was presented at the Institut français de Jérusalem followed by a public talk with Clement Chapillon and moderated by Jean-Marc Liling. The artist shared with his audience his experiences and encounters during the developing of the project.
Feminism is for everybody!
The women’s delegation of the Socialist Youth of Germany – The Falcons – stayed in Israel and Palestine from the 12th to the 19th of October 2018. We have agreed on an all-female delegation, focusing on exchange meetings with our sister youth movements, because we find it extremely important to debate matters of feminism and empowerment within our respective organisations. Hence, we were highly appreciative of the inspiring workshops that took place in cooperation with our partners.
During the first two days of our trip, we participated in the annual conference of the WBC, held under the Jerusalem Open Forum – Past and Future Reflection and Creation. There, we met with the leading group within the educational cooperation, which had prepared a wonderful workshop concerning peace education. In this workshop we had the opportunity to discuss and learn about the movements involved, as well the project itself. We also had a very enjoyable and informative experience while playing the peace education games that the leading group had developed. Following the workshop, we attended a presentation by Prof Ali Qleibo on “The History of the Abu Tor Neighbourhood and the House of the Willy Brandt Center”. Since the neighbourhood is quite old-aged, many personal stories are intertwined with its history. The first day found its perfect ending with plenty of delicious food, great wine, and lovely music played by the UNESCO Jazz Journeys.
On the conference’s second day, we participated in a workshop held by Dr. Omar Yousef, on Jerusalem’s urban development and its future. The workshop was exceedingly insightful, as a number of local residents took part in the debate and pointed out some rather interesting aspects that otherwise we probably would not have heard of. After an excellent lunch, we were delighted to join Yoni Mizrachi in a beautiful tour through Hinnom Valley, ending at a spot from which we could enjoy a lovely view over East Jerusalem.
After the conference, which we were glad to have attended, we spent a few very exciting and informative days with our partner organisations from the Middle East.
Work relations and the struggle for workers’ rights have had a fundamental effect on the shaping of both Israeli and Palestinian societies, and the relations between the two. These include an estimated 100000 Palestinians from the West Bank who currently work in Israel, as well as the fact that the German and Israeli trade unions have laid the foundations for the establishment of German-Israeli diplomatic relations in the late 1950s.
These are just a few of the issues the young trade union activists from the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung discussed during their delegation to Israel and Palestine. The Willy Brandt Center wishes to raise the awareness towards the role of trade unions and further strengthen relations between them. For this reason, we were delighted to welcome the Hans Böckler Stiftung, who over the course of 10 days visited many of our partner organisations such as Histadrut, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Israel, HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed, German Embassy Tel Aviv, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and many more.
Petra Klose, our Social Art Project Coordinator, was invited to Gaza by UNESCO to meet potential partners. In the following text Petra tells about her experience.
When I received the message “You will be leaving for Gaza at 8.30 tomorrow morning“ – I could actually not believe it. I had planned to go to Gaza several times before but every time the trip was cancelled due to security reasons. After the recent bombings and casualties, I couldn’t imagine that it would work out this time. But thanks to our partner, the UNESCO, I was allowed to join a UN car to drive from Jerusalem to Gaza the next morning to do some research for upcoming concerts and music workshops. We had decided to develop a series of jazz performances with local and international musicians, trusting in the power of jazz music in promoting creativity and intercultural dialogue.
Having dealt with all formalities at the Israeli border control, the UN car was allowed to drive through the Erez crossing. Yellow signs showed directions towards “Israel“ and to “Gaza“. What kind country is Gaza? I wondered.
A large, immensely high gate opened ahead of us – and closed behind us. “So this is how it feels when ‘you’re in’, I thought, being aware that it is completely ridiculous to talk about hiding your feelings when you know that you will easily be able to leave in less than 24 hours. On the other side I was met by the UNESCO team who accompanied me to have my papers checked and approved twice more, firstly by officials of the Palestinian Authority and secondly, by representatives of the “de-facto government“ – in other words Hamas, in what looked like a makeshift office in a container on a construction site.
Finally, we were able to drive into Gaza City. I was overwhelmed by the many bright lively colors. I don’t know why I had expected everything to be grey or covered in a thick layer of dust and rubble. In my mind Gaza had always been connected to images of military operations, protests of angry crowds, or most recently reports of the so called “Great March of Return“.
At the UNESCO office I had the chance to meet with Gaza artists for the first time. From an artistic point of view, the encounter was in no way different than any other production meeting for an upcoming music event; talking about the concept, rehearsal schedules, instrument and musical arrangements. Nevertheless, certain things had to be taken into consideration, such as the application of permits for musicians from the Westbank, the coordination for artists from abroad or the procedure to obtain permission for a public event.
After the meeting we looked at potential concert venues. Again, I was surprised to find beach clubs, discos and fully equipped theatres, as well as beautiful hotels with marble floors and fancy swimming pools. The last thing I had expected to find in Gaza were people having fun in a pool. However, on second glance I could see that there were only men and children in the pool. Women sat fully veiled at the pool edge.
Contradictions and contrasts everywhere. On our journey we drove along kilometers of overpopulated shabby dwellings of refugee camps and passed by the ruins of the cultural center which had been bombed a week before my arrival. On the collapsed walls somebody had written in bold red letters the words: “Free Palestine“.
In the end we found the perfect location for our jazz performance. A small archaeological museum and guest house with a breathtakingly beautiful sea view terrace. It looked like the ideal place to connect traditional heritage with a contemporary experimental music performance.
In the museum I discovered in the midst of byzantine columns a big showcase, displays of coins from the Austrian Hungarian Empire which had been excavated in Gaza. At first I thought that my mind was playing tricks on me, but there was in fact the profile of the Empress Maria Theresia right next to other antique coins, mostly from the Roman Empire. As locked up as we think of Gaza today, we forget how this place had always been at the crossroads of different cultures and empires between Africa, Asia and Europe.
At lunch I had a long talk with my companions for the day, among them an energetic young girl from Gaza. We discussed the effects of closed borders on the artist scene. “People here are hungry for the arts. There are more art projects than one would probably expect but we suffer from the restrictions and are denied connections to the outside world in order to exchange new perspectives.“
When I asked her how she feels as a young secular woman going about the internal borders and the religious rules imposed on daily life, she answered that for her “religion is a private matter“. She explained that she can easily accept everyone’s beliefs as an opinion, but requests respect for hers in return. I was curious as to whether she ever wanted to join the protests at the border. „In the beginning it was a movement that came from the people who were really marching for freedom. Later it became affiliated with the government. Why would I follow a government’s call to march for freedom if they would not allow me the freedom to protest against them if I wanted to?“
Our next meeting took place at the Roots Hotel, one of the few places which offer the necessary security clearance for internationals. A small iron plaque beside the entrance caught my eye: “Build by Utopia Design“.
The hotel was extremely comfortable with all technical amenities, only the noise of the generators reminded me of the long electricity cuts in Gaza. The terrace offered the most amazing panorama, to the right a beautiful beach, to the left the port of Gaza City with dozens of fisher boats lined up in the dazzling sun.
I took a picture and sent it to Nadine, a Palestinian friend of mine living in Vienna, who is currently writing a book about her family’s history. She replied „This will be the hippest summer travel destination in 2025“. She wasn’t cynical about it. Nadine represents a mindset that believes in a world in which anything can happen.
In theatre, we use the term „Coup de Theatre“ – an unforeseeable change, a solution which would have been unimaginable only a few pages before.
Even the one who is regarded as the greatest writer of all time, William Shakespeare, used this technique. The best example is in “The Winter’s Tale“. It is admittedly not considered one of his strongest pieces, offering an outrageously unrealistic and depressing plot with an even more outrageously unrealistic happy ending. I want to spare my readers the attempt of even trying to explain its narrative of tragic events and reunions after long-term separation.
The play takes us to the coasts and deserts of the kingdom „Bohemia by the sea“. Being of Czech descent, what always puzzled me was that the historic Kingdom of Bohemia, which roughly corresponds to the modern-day Czech Republic, had neither a coast nor a desert. But the Shakespearean „Bohemia by the sea“ doesn’t correspond to any real country, it’s a purely fictitious kingdom which became a dictum in the world of literature for the projection of a Utopian country.
When I was picked up from the hotel to start my journey back to Jerusalem it felt like driving through a movie with dimmed sound. Maybe it was partly due to the fact that the sandy streets swallow the sound of the cars but it was also evident that there are not many shops or working places open where people would head to during the day.
I sincerely hope that the musicians with whom we are planning our upcoming events will create a soundtrack that matches the incredible range of colors of this place,as an inspiring overture to new rich soundscapes.
What changed as a result of this visit? When I think about Gaza now, I don’t immediately think of groups of angry crowds, I see individual human faces. And it’s not only walls and fences that come to my mind, it’s wide promenades and beautiful sandy beaches.
In a way Gaza became my personal “Bohemia by the Sea“, a high-contrast country, so close and at the same time, so far. All I can hope for as somebody working in the arts, is for some courageous writers who are ready and willing to come up with an inventive storyboard. Of course, any plot for this might seem even more unrealistic than anything Shakespeare has ever written, but if not artists, who would be allowed to dream and create such a utopia to make its audience believe in a happy ending in The Winter’s Tale.