Laura Conrad Mandel

Spitting and Spinning Connections

Stav Marin (left) and Neta Weiner (right) photo credit Ella Barak

Boston was given a gift this season – one that couldn’t have felt more timely as colleagues and friends everywhere are constantly asking me: How can we understand and support Israel and Gaza better in these hard times? It’s so complicated.

For many of us, the polarization of the situation in Israel and Gaza has felt isolating. And as I see and hear divides growing in this isolation, I feel more strongly than ever that we need ways for people to connect beyond social media, to talk without fighting and shouting slogans. For me, this is why Neta Weiner and Stav Marin are Israeli artists we all need to know today, and why Boston was given such a gift this season.

Thanks to the BAMAH Israeli Visiting Artists program, Neta and Stav came to Boston in January to serve as artists in residence in the Tufts University Dance and Theater Department. Since they arrived, I’ve had the privilege of watching as they (and their toddler daughter!) have taken root in Boston, bringing their unique Jaffa Israel-based performance ethos to a community that is in worsening pain as the days go by.

Through their creative combination of rap, dance, and music – as individuals and as artistic collaborators- Neta and Stav have long used art to create visceral connections. As Neta says, “through music, we can pray together across languages and beliefs.” This is the premise of System Ali, the band born out of their Jaffa Israel neighborhood that sings in six languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Yiddish, Amharic and English — the native languages of the nine members of the ensemble. These nine musicians, who have been working together for a decade, established System Ali 2007 during the struggle against house demolitions in Jaffa and south Tel Aviv. Since then, they have run the System Ali house in Holon which operates as a local youth cultural center founded to promote, develop and provide a platform for a new generation of Jewish and Arab artists. It serves to encourage creative encounters and collaboration between communities and foster the creation of new stories. Their songs deal with life in the periphery of the center or life under the definition of minorities in Israel; without hesitating to tackle the painful and sensitive issues, in an honest, critical, hard-hitting, and uncompromising manner.

The spirit of System Ali gets to the heart of the matter: we can’t ignore our disagreements… we need spaces and places to share them. In the case of System Ali, it was spitting and spinning in a Jaffa bomb shelter that lettheir members face one another and create something beautiful through the pain and opposition.

During their time in residence at Tufts University as BAMAH Israeli visiting artists, I’ve had the great privilege of experiencing evolution in Neta and Stav’s work.

Their Cut.Loose performance has toured the world but debuted in Boston in March. This intimate two-person theatrical, dance, and music performance takes place in a simple “in the round” set with audience sitting fully in a circle and engaged in the action. The piece was created during several rounds of violence in Israel-Palestine, and as they say, “the intimacy of the acts of violence and the fear our reality consisted of took us to our own intimate life as a couple.” This performance unpacks their personal experience living through these times, and explores the toll global events like these take on individuals and on couples.

While a totally different vibe and performance style than Cut.Loose, the development of Neta and Stav’s Beat Midrash program has been equally inspiring. Riffing off a class that took place in the backroom of Somerville’s new Lehrhaus Jewish Tavern, the Beat Midrash is evolving through their work in Boston and will take on a feature length format on May 2 in the beautiful and historic Vilna Shul, located in Boston’s iconic Beacon Hill. The Beat Midrash does as the name says – bringing beats and music into a space of study and connection – with a focus on the many languages and cultures that are at the core of Israeli society.

Neta and Stav’s work here in Boston has been artistically exciting and spiritually uplifting, and it has provided me with an authentic dose of belief in humanity. It’s energizing to see the Boston community become part of their artistic journey, and I am grateful for the creative gift they bring to this community. Their artistry and friendship is one that has brought me much inspiration this season and I hope they bring you hope, too.

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.
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