Laura Conrad Mandel

Champions of Nuance and Empathy

Nanaguri the fairy of joy by Meytal Ofer (photo credit Laura Mandel)

Last week, I took great pride in attending the Yachad art show in Somerville, MA – a community created show featuring work by 67 artists who, as the name yachad says, came together in support of Israel and the Jewish people.

In the days leading up to the show, one artist stood out for me on social media: Tel Aviv based papercut artist Meytal Ofer. Her work spoke to me as a fellow papercut artist, not only for the beauty of her hand cutting but also because of her ability to address the pain of the situation in Israel and Gaza without being aggressive or alienating. In a nutshell, paper cutting has intrigued me for many years because it’s such a simple and simultaneously complex art form, starting with a simple sheet of paper and using a blade to transform it into something complex and beautiful.

At the Yachad show, it wasn’t surprising that out of 100+ pieces I was once again drawn to Meytal’s work. I fell in love with a piece called “Nanaguri” (the fairy of joy) because its message felt so necessary in this moment, like a guiding force and physical reminder that we need joy in the darkest of times.

To my great surprise and delight, a week later I discovered that a month after the events of October 7, the NY Times had featured Meytal in an article entitled “Meet the Champions of Nuance and Empathy We Need” – a phrase I have repeated on loop since October.

I now understand in reading Meytal’s words why I gravitated to her work so strongly. Yes, we share a passion for paper cutting. Yes, she does beautiful and noteworthy work. And most importantly, we share a vision for how the world can be a better place by engaging with art and finding nuance and common ground through it.

The situation in Israel and Gaza is not new, and for Meytal, it’s especially visceral because her father was murdered by Hamas almost exactly ten years earlier. As Meytal told the NY Times, following her father’s death, while she was skeptical of what it could actually accomplish, she joined the  Parents Circle — Families Forum, a joint Israeli and Palestinian nonprofit made up of people who have lost loved ones to the conflict. This group, and others like it, seek to cultivate connections and understanding that help humanize the faces of this conflict. And while it may not be the big solution, this work is critical in breaking down barriers.

In profiling Meytal and others, NY Times writer Nicholas Kristof came to a beautiful conclusion:

I’m grateful to them for providing moral leadership that so many presidents and prime ministers have not. I don’t know if they can actually succeed in blazing a path to peace, but we need such champions of nuance and empathy if we are to have any hope of moving forward.

As we Americans increasingly find ourselves caught in toxic or bigoted battles on our own turf, echoing those in the Middle East, we should learn not from the arsonists but from these firefighters who demonstrate the human capacity for conciliation, healing, and progress.”

Through her papercuts – the painstaking time it takes to hand cut each piece and through the messages of pain and hope they portray – Meytal gives us a glimpse of beauty and hope. Like Kristof, I also don’t know that art and community connection can actually succeed in blazing a path to peace, but I know we need more champions of nuance and empathy.

About the Author
Laura Conrad Mandel is an artist, entrepreneur, mom, and founding Executive Director of Boston’s Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts). She currently serves as Chair of the Board of the Council of American Jewish Museums and as co-chair of the Boston Lyric Stage Advisory Council.
Related Topics
Related Posts