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My Heart Lives in The East

Photos by Aline Frisch, Tel Aviv

Like any pivotal moment, I remember the scene vividly. I was in Charleston North Carolina celebrating my anniversary, standing in a parking lot near the harbor looking for a public restroom. The sky was blue, the day was warm, and the parking lot was filled with trees, shady shadows and silver compact cars. I was happy, hungry and needed to pee.

My phone rang and my doctor's phone number showed up on my screen. It was odd for a Saturday. I felt everything shift inside. Her words, "I need to see you right away. Can you come into my office first thing Monday morning?" made me instantly feel afraid. The only words I remember from the rest of the exchange are "I think you may have Autoimmune Hepatitis and we need to schedule a liver biopsy as soon as possible."

What just happened? I honestly don't remember much else about the day, where we ate, or how we got home. After hanging up the phone, my mind racing, I googled Autoimmune Hepatitis. "Dr. Google" wasn't very encouraging about what this disease would mean for my life. A lifetime of steroids, possible liver transplant, and five-year mortality were all mentioned.

The following Monday I saw my doctor and scheduled the biopsy. That night, the dinner conversation went like this: "If this is true, and I only have five years to live, I need to sculpt". I relinquished 80% of my time in our business, pulled out my sculpture tools from college and began playing with the alabaster blocks I had bought, inspired by a recent trip to Italy to celebrate my 50th birthday. Thankfully, 500 lbs of alabaster were already stored in my garage waiting for me.

My first stone sculpture was done in a college art class. When I was 18. It was an introductory class that taught a bit of everything - sketching, printmaking, painting, life drawing and sculpture. I remember to this day picking out a piece of raw pink alabaster and my teacher's instructions to "think about light and shadow". I stayed up all night working on that first piece and fell in love with the challenge of creating three-dimensional art by removing material. I made two stone sculptures in that class. I sold one of them. I still have the other. Thirty-five years had passed between that class and that phone call.

Being poor and moving eight times in my 20s, stone sculpture was not affordable or practical. By my 30s, I had gotten married, had a baby, become a business owner, begun traveling — and time kept passing. I always did art for myself and I would often walk by that first sculpture, a sleeping snake with a woman's face, pat her on the head and say, "One day I will wake you up — I promise". Whenever I told people I was an artist I referred to myself as sculptor, "with a love of stone".

So, here I was in my mid 50s, my daughter grown and on her own, my husband and I partners in a thriving business, happy and satisfied with my life, and getting physically sicker by the day. My body couldn't keep up with the pace and my soul wanted to create. I didn't know how to shift my direction — until that phone call. 

While I waited out the weeks for my procedure, I found my chisels from almost 40 years prior, took a local stone sculpting class, began sculpting where I had left off and just kept going. I had no agenda about how much to create or plan to show anyone my work until I was sure of myself, but it was as if everything had simply been waiting for me to show up again. Once I began, the momentum kept me going.

And thankfully, the test results all came back fine. Along with my longing to sculpt, this time frame also re-awoke my love of and desire to return to Israel. This seed was planted in my heart in 1979 when at 16 years old I attended the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. My class was small and the campus for that group was on the tiny campus at Beit Berl in Kfar Saba. That place and experience changed me forever and I fell madly in love with Israel. I believed at that time that I would return to Israel within a year of going home, but, as with sculpting, I didn't and 40 years passed. My love of sculpture and my love of Israel stayed in in the back of my heart while I raised my daughter and ran my business.

So in the spring of 2017, while reinventing myself, I returned to Israel on my own with no specific plan and began wandering the country, trying to find my lost love again. It was immediate. My first days in Tel Aviv felt alive and Jerusalem brought back a flood of deep memories. I learned to navigate the buses, the taxis and WhatsApp, and it seemed like everyone I met became a friend. On my first visit back to Jerusalem, I met a family friend, Sam Philip who is an accomplished Israeli sculptor. He saw my work and said, "This is really good. How would you like to show in Jerusalem?" That moment began my amazing journey back to myself, to my art and to my soul's home: Israel.

Since that day, I have been back to Israel seven times, transforming many of my stone designs into larger bronze sculpture. My work has shown at the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem for all of 2019, in an exhibition in Maale Adumim, and in a group exhibition at Raanana Park in January 2020. I am honored that one of these designs was created into a garden installation called "Eternal Flame" and placed in Jerusalem in May 2020 to honor Holocaust survivors. The next project in the works is called "Healing Heart". It will be a six-foot sculpture, inspired by the "Heart of the Matter" and placed in Bet Shean at the entrance of Magen David Adom. Designed with love in mind, it will honor Israel's first responders, the work they do and the lives they save. My hope is always that my work gives a feeling of energy, passion and healing to anyone who engages
with it. My art career and love of Israel continue to grow and thrive, and I look forward to the day I return, when I get to stand on her holy ground and reconnect with my dearest friends once again. 



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