Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

JerUSAlem-USA: See the 20 Jerusalems in USA

This week’s recognition by the United States of the 3,000-year reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, prompted my posting here a description of my blogart project about the twenty Jerusalems in the United States. See http://jerusalem-usa.blogspot.com for photos and texts by local residents of places named “Jerusalem” in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont. My description of the project here is an excerpt from my book The Future of Art in Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) available from amazon.com. See the book’s blog at http://future-of-art.com.

The name of these American Jerusalems was inspired by the Bible where we read about King David establishing Jerusalem as the capital of the unified state of the Israelite nation more than three millenia ago. Today, Jerusalem is the lively capital of the modern state of Israel.

I created a JerUSAlem-USA blog and a JerUSAlem-USA Facebook group where I posted invitations to participate in this art project by sending photographs of everyday life (people, homes, stores, community events and celebrations, flora and fauna, scenery, and signs showing the name “Jerusalem”). I also invited participation by sending letters to the editors of local newspapers read by people living in the American Jerusalems and neighboring communities. I also e-mailed my request to professors at art schools and college and university art departments in the dozen states with Jerusalems to invite their photography students to participate. I contacted governors, senators, congressmen, and state and local governments with requests to arrange collaboration by their constituents. I then posted on the project blog an invitation in Hebrew inviting Israelis to study the photographs of Jerusalems in the USA and submit matching images of Jerusalem in Israel.

The juxtaposition of photographs of the original Jerusalem with those from the twenty American Jerusalems creates an interactive network of people with shared values that deepens the friendship between them. A photograph of a wooden covered bridge built over the Jericho River by Thomas Forsyth in 1865 in Jerusalem Mills, Maryland, is juxtaposed with a photograph of the light rail bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava and built in 2009 to span the entrance to Jerusalem, Israel, drawing up images of the stringed harp of King David. The image of an Independence Day celebration in Jerusalem in upstate New York on the shores of Lake Keuka to commemorate the liberation of the USA from British rule on the 4th of July 1776 is matched by an image of a Jerusalem Day celebration in downtown Jerusalem commemorating the liberation of Jerusalem after nearly 2,000 years of occupation by foreign powers from the Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire to the British Empire. A photo of Ave Maria Grotto, known as “Jerusalem in Miniature,” a landscaped park designed to provide a natural setting for the 125 architectural miniatures created of stone and concrete as the lifetime work of Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St Bernard Abbey in Alabama is posted with a photo of “Mini Israel,” a tourist attraction midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that features over 350 beautifully crafted exact-replica models of historical, religious, archeological, and modern sites in Jerusalem and throughout the Land of Israel. The fun photograph of a pink rabbit on a spring for children to ride in a playground in Jerusalem, Ohio, is juxtaposed with a photograph of a huge fantasy monster created by artist Niki de Saint Phalle in 1972 in Jerusalem, Israel; children climb up inside the monster to slide down any one of its three tongues. 

People began to not only send me photographs of Jerusalems in the USA, but attached delightful stories of how the American Jerusalems got their names and descriptions of the places they chose to photograph. Residents wrote about their experiences living in an American Jerusalem and visitors wrote about their observations of the place and their discussions with people who live there.

Judi and Al Grant of Jerusalem, Rhode Island wrote: “My husband Al and I live in the village of Jerusalem year round. We heard about your project through an article written in our local paper – The South County Independent. The photos of the Block Island ferry were taken from our home looking over to the Port of Galilee. Rhode Island has four seasons and whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall each season brings a sense of contentment and wellbeing within our community. It is truly a remarkable place. I’ve attached another photo – it was on the outside of our home when we purchased it years ago. The man that built the house in 1945 placed it on the chimney – Now the way to get to Jerusalem is by way of Galilee passing through Jericho – is it not? Was this the original owner’s way of saying this was his little slice of heaven?” About how it got its name. “In 1902, the story goes, Thomas Mann a fisherman from Nova Scotia who had settled here, felt the village that had sprung up with its fishing shacks should be called Galilee after the fishing village of biblical times. One day, an old timer sat on the docks repairing his nets when a stranger called out to him, ‘Where am I?’ The answer was ‘Galilee.’ ‘And what is that?’ the stranger asked pointing to the other side of the channel. The old timer thought for a minute, nodded his head and replied, ‘Must be Jerusalem!’ And so the names of Galilee and Jerusalem have been used since to denote a most picturesque part of Rhode Island.”

Molly Davis, a student of photography professor Amy Jorgensen at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, wrote: “A long, dry, dirt road led up to the town of Jerusalem, Utah. There were old decaying cabins and sheds, log cabins, and tiny houses where the people lived. A car came down the dirt road with a lady wearing a pink hat and pink lipstick. She introduced herself as Laura Phelps, ‘Mayor’ of the town. She was sweet and excited about the JerUSAlem-USA project when we explained it to her. She told us about the history of little Jerusalem that was established by her great-grandfather. Walking down the road was a man in his flannel shirt and worn out jeans with his eight-month-old Great Dane puppy. You could hardly call her a puppy. She was huge. The man was in the process of training her. Her jumping all over the place scared me. The man, who did not want to be identified, told us about his great-great-grandmother and how she lived in the broken down blue bus in his shed. He then left to help his neighbor with a farming project. The farming equipment was painted in beautiful bright colors, which was humorous because the town itself was very dry and bland with green trees and hills behind it. I felt a sense of beauty there even with the ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Keep Out’ signs.”

Cynthia Glad is also a student at Snow College where she is majoring in art. She is a 38-year-old mother of six who interviewed and photographed three of the families living in Jerusalem, Utah. Cynthia lives in the town of Moroni only a five-minute drive from Jerusalem. Just as different photographers of the same Jerusalem focus on different aspects of the place, the texts I received complement each other by providing alternative viewpoints. Cynthia wrote: “I found as I talked to the residents of Jerusalem, they were excited as well. I think this gives one more human connection to the rest of the world that sometimes these little places are lacking. They are happy and content in their lives, secluded for the most part by choice. But to know that there are people just like them in communities across the USA and in Israel is eye opening. Even though the initial connection is linked only by the name of their community, they will find other similarities with the people and lives of those other places. It makes the world a little smaller. Kind of like Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World After All.’ One couple spent many years taking their children to the farm on weekends and holidays. When the father retired and sold his chiropractic business, they went to the farm to live. They own several acres and have a gigantic garden. There are bags and boxes of fruits and vegetables throughout the kitchen, as well as bottles and racks of dried and processed foods. The night I visited with them, the pressure canner was busy at work on the stove. All these are signs of the efforts they have put into the land and the reward for their hard work. They have one pasture that every evening fills up with about a hundred deer. They lead a busy life that at the same time carries a sense of quiet. The land that Jerusalem, Utah, sits on has been in the mother’s family since the mid-1800s when the first settler Lawrence Christensen moved there. Laura Phelps, another great-granddaughter, says of her great-grandfather, ‘Someone asked him the name of his little town and he said, Little Jerusalem. It has been Jerusalem ever since.’ Jack Bailey drove by in his truck. He is the great-grandson of Lawrence Christensen. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. His family home had burned down many years ago. He now has a home that sits on many acres and is nestled against the mountain where he raised his kids. Jack is 82 years old and has been farming all his life. Jack has only about 30 head of sheep left on his farm. He said, ‘I’m about ready to give it up.’”

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.
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