In collaboration with the ELEM – Youth in Distress in Israel non-profit organization
The ELEM mobile unit in Zion Square
Boys and girls, whose home is the street, gather nightly in Jerusalem's Zion Square. These young people, hailing from all parts of Jerusalem and Israel, left their family homes for a variety of reasons. They are not enrolled in educational or social institutions. The ELEM non-profit organization serves these youths, throughout the country, by means of mobile units in city centers manned by volunteers. The volunteers maintain warm relations with these youth and attempt to assist in their rehabilitation.
Late at night weekly, ELEM's mobile unit parks in Zion Square in Jerusalem. The unit is staffed by professionals and volunteers who foster close relations with youths in the Square, providing them with basic needs from hot beverages and food to conversation and an attentive ear.
One member of the ELEM mobile unit staff is also an artist-teacher at the Israel Museum Youth Wing for Art Education. The artist positions an "artist's table" in the Square, letting the young people paint and create. Painting around the table provides an additional and alternative channel of communication between youths and mobile unit staff, a channel which sometimes eases expression of their distress. For Youth Wing staff, this is one of many community-based activities, and its implementation is rooted in the staff's sense of mission and social responsibility.
Museum Director James Snyder speaking at the opening of the ELEM exhibition
Night-time Creation by Anat Chanes
Zion Square. 11:00 pm. The ELEM mobile unit arrives in the street promenade. Children in black, red, and yellow; kipot, endless chains, pierced earrings and body jewelry, wigs, tzitziot, kaffiyas, galabiyas, cigarettes, occasional guitars, echoing darbuka drums, beer, broken bottles, yelling, singing, dreadlocks; freaks, arsim, ultra-Orthodox, simply religious; English, Hebrew, Russian; police…"No desperation in the world," is immediately followed by another shout of, "Bro, do you have a cigarette?"
ELEM volunteers open the mobile unit. They take out pitchers of tea, a table, chairs, paper, paints and brushes. "Do you guys have food?" "We waited for you for a long time." "Where've you been?" Paints start to spill onto paper…Boundaries are breached; there's no stigma in the Square. A group of teens are swept away by the sounds of Carlebach's Hasidic music, whisperings, drug deals, caresses, threats, violence, smiles, conversations, exposure. Beer cans and bourekas fly through the air. Outsized bags are scattered in every corner. Someone is returning from Eilat. Someone from Tiberias is painting the route that she walked to get here. The Square is a station on the way to the next squat. Openness, color, diversity, and abundant warmth without commitment lend a lot of strength. There are no parents, no structure. There is a sense that here, in this place, one can act out aggression, scream, be silent; be anything and everything without judgment.
A boy alone on the corner. Still wearing his school bag on his back, he scans and scrutinizes the scene from a distance – maybe here he'll find a friend. Maybe in another minute, he too will dance freely like that to the strains of the guitar; and feel secure enough to scream, to smoke, to drink, to break loose; maybe he'll guard the boundaries, and maybe he won't…
One minute before that, he picks up a brush and begins to paint.
For more than five years, artists from the Israel Museum Youth Wing have engaged in voluntary work with ELEM mobile unit staff, on Thursdays in Zion Square. The artists arrive, equipped with brushes, paints, paper and materials, to create art with others in Zion Square.
Wall of works in the ELEM exhibition
The artists: Edna Ohana, Anat Chanes, Dalia Nawi, Jumana Abboud, Yael Rubin, Eldad Shaaltiel