It is my experience that at most Israeli advocacy events, a whole mess of Jewish people congregate together, hiding from their goy friends and shiksa girlfriends, listening to the same true, but tired, facts and pretending to be artsy, cool and hip in the hopes of seeing a co-religionist naked. Artists 4 Israel’s inaugural (S)kin event, a monthly, meaningful, life-drawing class featuring nude, Israel models, was exactly the opposite. From the beginning, the Jewish girls were already naked. The attendees, a majority of whom, if circumcised, were not done so under the auspices of a Rabbi, were, actually, artistic and, the facts were living, breathing, posing models of truth.
Described as the “Shapes and Sizes” version of (S)kin, the program intended to highlight the broad, multi-cultural population of Israel. As Seth Wolfson, one of the event organizers said in his 2 minute introductory speech (and kudos to any Jewish leader who can keep it short and sweet), “Israel is a diverse and beautiful community.” That community seemingly includes a number of attractive individuals from a languid, Latina beauty representing the Sephardim, to a shockingly forceful, Ashkenazi, Dita Von Teese lookalike with jet black hair, deadly pale skin and swollen nipples. A bright red-head with a soft physique represented the increasingly important Russian community of Israel (her gun tattoo told the same story) and a dark-skinned Ethiopian model demonstrated the breadth of Israel’s civil rights protections.
As Craig Dershowitz, President of Artists 4 Israel, told me in private, Israel provides equal protection under the law for all her citizens, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation or race. His was a short, but intense, political message that you could tell is the motivating force behind this event.
But, politics was not allowed the time or space to trump the artistic considerations of the afternoon. Led by Doug Brega, a renowned watercolorist known more for his renderings of New England landscapes and portraiture then for his erotic drawings, the class was packed with artists taking their craft seriously…almost. Some were professionals, including graphic designers, well-paid cartoonists and employed (in this Obamian new world quarter, that is saying a lot) illustrators. Others were less professional, including graffiti and street artists, the aesthetically curious and novices who had fun comparing their creations.
I overheard two first-timers playing a game of “clouds” trying to figure out which body part of which model the other had drawn. Doug’s criticisms were thoughtful and geared toward the experience level of each participant. He did not make a political comment throughout, leaving himself the time and energy to transfer what he could of his artistic talent to the eager audience. When he had concluded and as the models wrapped themselves back up in their 1970’s porn-era robes, Jenny Kagan, another director of Artists 4 Israel gave a short closing speech. She encouraged the audience to research Israel’s diversity on their own. Like Doug, she taught by nudges and encouragement.
It was this same intensity of purpose yet subtlety of delivery that distinguished this event from the schmaltzy, grown-up Bar Mitzvahs of most Jew-pow-wows and/or Israeli love-ins. Don’t get me wrong – there were the obligatory parting gifts, soap and other bath items by Sabon but, like the event itself, the gifts represented the best of Israel in New York.
Had a nebbishy, Woody Allen fan walked into Beauty Bar, packed by the tattooed, long-haired, Jews who populated its bar stools for hours past the last model closed her perfectly coiffed vagina, drinking PBR and debating the RealID act, he would have been sent home.
For the unaffiliated Jews and the non-Jews who support Israel that attend Artists 4 Israel events, being Jewish is neither being naked or dead. Being Jewish is about being alive, in all its creative, passionate possibility. These are the Norman Mailer’s of advocacy, macho, powerful and sublimely unique for their time.