My son Amitai and I had the privilege to study 墨絵 sumi painting together with a master, Jan Zaremba, for a couple of years when we were living in Cambridge MA. Amitai was 12 years old when he started sumi, at the time of this post he is 20 and serving in an elite combat unit in the Israeli army. Not being able to study with Jan is one of the few things that I deeply miss since coming back to Israel. The pine tree in this painting is inspired by a traditional sumi painting, the scene of Jerusalem in the background is my creation. I did this painting shortly after returning to Jerusalem, for an artist and friend, Avraham Yakin, on his 80th birthday.
It might seem strange to think about Japanese art and culture while in Israel, you probably are here to explore and experience the history, religions, archeology, etc. of this land. However, if you are going to be in the north, you might want to visit the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa, the only one of its kind in the Middle East. Felix Tikotin, an architect by profession, was an internationally renowned collector and dealer in Japanese works of art. For more than forty years he amassed his valuable and rare collection and organized exhibitions of Japanese art in many museums. During the Second World War, because he was Jewish, Felix Tikotin had to flee for his life from the Nazis; he hid his collection in Holland to prevent it from falling into their hands. After the war, Tikotin decided that his unique collection should be taken to Israel.
Tikotin purchased the “Kisch House” and in accordance with his ideas and plans, a Japanese pavillion to be used as an exhibition hall was added. In 1995 a new wing was added to the existing hall. It was designed by one of the renowned architects of Japan Junzo Yoshimura (1908-1997) of Tokyo, together with the Israeli architect Professor Al Mansfeld (1912-2004) of Haifa. Mansfeld is known as the architect of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem who with architect Ms. Dora Gad in charge of the interior design were awarded the Israel Prize. The Tikotin Museum’s collection comprises some 7,000 items of art and crafts – paintings, prints, drawings, painted screens, textiles, antique illustrated texts, ceramics, miniature carvings (netsuke), lacquer and metal work, antique swords and functional art works, mainly from the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as a collection of modern Japanese art.
Another connection between Japan and Israel is the story of Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝) the Japanese Vice Consul to Latvia during World War II. Sugihara single-handedly provided transit visas to more than 6000 Jewish refugees from German-occupied Poland and residents of Latvia who would otherwise have perished in Nazi Europe, risking his career and his family’s life. In 1985, Israel honored him as Righteous Among the Nations for his actions and a tree was planted in his honor at Yad Vashem.