Shayna Abramson

Jerusalem Artists Stand Up for Asylum Seekers

Jerusalem: The word has been synonymous with inspiration for 2,000 years, so perhaps it comes as no surprise that Israel’s capital is bustling with arts and culture. But what some may find surprising is the extent to which arts in the holy city serve as a platform for social justice. This has been especially apparent in recent days, when the Jerusalem arts community has united to stand up for asylum seekers, who are facing immediate deportation due to Israel’s recent change in asylum seeker policy.

Sala-Manca, an arts group based out of the Mamuta Art and Media Center at Hansen House, organized a new exhibit, “There is No Place More Exalted than My Present Refuge”, in response to Israel’s new policy. The exhibit is accompanied by a wide array of events, including a free screening of a film about a theater group from Holot, the prison where Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers are imprisoned, on February 22.

The exhibit invites visitors to walk in asylum seekers’ footsteps: A video tells asylum seeker stories; a looped roll of film causes the viewer to experience different doors being shut in her face; a water sculpture depicts the exact moment at which a load becomes too much too bear, causing the cup to tip over.

Leah Mauas and Diego Rotman, the directors of Sala-Manca, explained: “We felt the need to express the artistic community’s voice against the deportation of Israel’s asylum seekers…. Not every project has an activist nature at its core, but every artistic act is a response to a certain socio-political-economic context. Our activism comes to the fore with projects whose goal is to effect change on a certain type of discourse.”

Additionally, the Mazkeka, a bar and concert venue, is participating in a nation-wide effort of nightlife and culture institutions to oppose Israel’s deportation policy. Mikael Berkowitsch, director of the Mazkeka, explained that even though customers had written on the Mazkeka’s Facebook page threatening to boycott the venue in response to its support for asylum seekers, “to me it is worth it to take a stand against racism.”

This Thursday and Friday, a portion of all proceeds at the Mazkeka will go to help asylum seekers.  Thursday’s concert, Kosmodrome, will be a special space-themed affair; the entire venue will be transformed into a spacecraft for the evening.

Jerusalem’s artists have not been the only ones to step up: The Jerusalem African Community Center, a group of African, Israeli, and international volunteers dedicated to helping Jerusalem’s Eritrean and Sudanese populations, have increased their activities in response to Israel’s recent deportation policy, and there was a massive rally in the city center last week, as well as a planned event on February 25th to voice the Jewish religious community’s opposition to Israel’s policy.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem’s artists and cultural professionals stand out for their dedication to harnessing the creative inspiration of the city as a catalyst for tolerance and social activism; their recent efforts on behalf of asylum seekers show that not only can the arts elevate the human spirit, but they can also be an effective tool in the struggle to defend human rights.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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