The Sculpture at Neve Shalom

excerpts from Suzanne Rosenblatt's ISRAEL JOURNALS

November 1994 , the first visit to Neve Shalom.

June 1997

Adolph finished sculpting this morning, eight Arab children and eight Jewish children. They'll be fired at a nearby kibbutz.

Instead of working in a large common space the way he did in the Milwaukee schools, he sculpted the children one at a time in the art room, which is a separate building. To bring him up to Adolph's eye level, the child sat in a seat placed on a table. Then Adolph plunked a small amount of clay onto a table on the table. While Adolph sculpted, the child made his own tiny sculpture which Adolph then included in the larger piece, with the child's name written in Hebrew or Arabic.

Diana, the art teacher, selected only children who would be here next May when Adolph returns to paint the sculptures. The children were very excited about the project and those who haven't posed keep stopping Diana to ask if they can be next. Today she announced to the class that happened to be in the art room when Adolph finished his last sculpture that Adolph's leaving tomorrow. They clapped and cheered; his encore will have to wait till next year.

May 1998

01 02 03 04

[photos of the sculpture in Adolph's portfolio]


All we did today basically was get here. There was, of course, the moment of truth when Adolph unlocked the door to the art room: his sculptures had survived the firing beautifully, and any broken pieces seemed to be there.

A man named Abed will make the stand and help us in any other way we need help. Adolph, Abed, and I spent the afternoon figuring out the logistics of building the stand, the distance between each figure, the location and height of the stools, all sorts of little details that you'd think would be obvious and aren't.

Abed asked if we'd brought the hardware for the stools from the United States and pointed out that it was made in Taiwan. I said that almost everything in the United States is made in Taiwan or China, even my daughter-in-law, and I showed him a photo of Pauline in her ninth month, and photos of our children and of the grandchildren already born. "Are you married?" I asked.

"You think I'm crazy? I like my freedom."

His parents had eight children, seven boys and a girl. One of his uncles has four wives and about thirty children. So I could see why he might recognize the importance of freedom.

"Where do your parents live?" I asked.

I was delighted to discover his parents are the Bedouins that are encamped in the valley below our window. They have been there thirty years.

"Do they sell the wool from their sheep?" I asked.

"Not anymore. People use synthetics now. They throw the wool away because it's dirty. It's cheaper to throw it away than to clean it."

"Do they sell the milk and cheese?"

"They used to, but now they're too old to milk the sheep and make cheese."

"Well, why do they keep the sheep?"

"They sell the lambs."

"For lamb chops?"


I asked him how old he is, and he said around forty more or less. He doesn't know his exact birth date. His mother is illiterate and doesn't know the dates. Anyway, it doesn't make any difference. He never celebrates his birthday.

"What about your father?"

"He had five years of schooling, but he doesn't know anything now. His handwriting is like first, first...class."

"First grade?"


Thirty years ago there had been many Bedouins raising sheep in the area. But in 1976 Sharon relocated them into the Negev Desert, so the Jews could use the land. He couldn't move Abed's family and one other family because they lived on monastery land, which is private. They're the only ones still here.

"It must be very lonely for them," I said.

"They have their sheep."


At 8:30 this morning we'll get to work. I'll be the sculptor's apprentice, painting the under-coat, then Adolph will paint the over-coat and refine the colors. We hope this will shorten the whole process and we'll be able to finish the project this trip. Well, Adolph is determined to stay till he finishes.

Later. We painted three third-grade girls, two Arab, Maram and Nour, and one Jewish, Anov. Only Maram speaks English, and sometimes she'd translate for us, sometimes not. After a couple of hours of being cooped up in the art room, the three girls became restless, and a definite sense of chaos prevailed, other children screaming through the windows and banging on the door till finally I locked us all in and closed the windows.

One of today's challenges was to figure out whether to paint the children's tiny sculptures or leave them terra cotta colored. It would be a major project to paint them ourselves. Maram wanted to paint her own. That, too, could be a major project, for if she started, eventually all sixteen children would be painting on Adolph's sculpture. Finally Adolph said yes, and the three girls got very excited. Each checked through Adolph's paint brush collection and grabbed the smallest brush she could find. Picking colors from the dozens of jars of paint Adolph had schlepped from Milwaukee, they carefully dipped brushes first into water, then into the paint, washing the brushes thoroughly if they wanted to change colors. And their excitement showed in the final results, in the striped cat, in the glowing reds and blues.

On our way to Israel I had said to Adolph, "If you paint one child in the morning and one in the afternoon, you'll need only eight working days to finish," and he'd replied that he could never do it that fast, it's too exhausting. Then he somehow arrived at the idea that I could help him paint. That would be fun yet not an interference in his style. After all, the under-coat is tinted gesso, like gessoing a canvas, and Adolph said to just put it on in flat tones. That's the way it started out. But Adolph was very relaxed about what I did, so I started playing around with the color, getting the different shades in the hair, the gradations of green in the tee-shirt, and flat was no longer flat.

And I now see that under-coat on clay sculpture by Adolph is not at all like under-coat on canvas, for his sculptures are very textured, and a plain flat coat would be speckled without a lot of extra effort to fill in the crevices. I also now know why it would be hard for him to do two in one day. It is exhausting. But combining our efforts and the children's, we finished three in one day!

I thought Adolph was in bed reading a book, but now I see he's sound asleep at 8 PM, book and glasses lying on the sheet. I could easily do the same. We have a nice chorus to sleep to, goats, sheep, donkeys, dogs, and chickens, and also, of course, we have the aroma of manure.

Abed hates the sheep. He was born in and grew up in Beersheva. When his parents moved to this area, he stayed back there to go to school and went home only on vacations. When all his friends were playing with each other, he was here with the sheep.


Our second day of painting, three more almost finished, and I underpainted a fourth, so we should finish by the end of next week.


Yesterday daytime was our most intense workday yet. For the children, it's a ball, getting off classes to pose and even to paint. And we had four wound-up children, Natali, Samah, Erwan, and Mohammed, reverberating in the art room, all with definite color ideas and loud voices. We can only work on two pieces at once while the other two models wait with nothing to do but disrupt. Even if we give them drawing materials, that suffices for only a short period. But if we asked for only two at a time, we probably wouldn't get the second batch at all. We have now completed eight figures, and I have undercoated three more, Adolph and Abed have done all the repairs, and Abed is almost finished building the stand. This is pretty much a miracle, though not the typical Israeli-type miracle. I can't imagine Adolph doing all this himself in less than four or five weeks.


Today we finished three more figures, eleven done, five to go, and the kids we worked with, two Arabs and one Jew, ages ten to eleven, were delightful, bright, and creative; it's a privilege to get to know the children, two or three at a time like this, less of a privilege if there are four. When I finished the undercoats, I continued painting. After all, Adolph had been encouraging me to do as much as I wanted since he can always paint over it. So I added Mayaan's eyebrows, lips, the varying shades in her skin and hair and clothing. By the time Adolph was ready to work on the piece, there was very little left for him to do.


This morning has been difficult. Maayan came and Adolph finished painting her, but every few minutes we got a different report on Dor and Amit. We were told they don't speak English and don't want to come. We sent Maayan for them a few times, and now, finally, two hours later, Dor is here, sitting quietly. Maayan just inspected the sculpture of Dor.

"What do you think? The clothes worked out really well," Adolph is saying to her. Now she and Adolph are discussing the hair color. Maayan suggests a color Adolph likes, Adolph tells her to ask Dor which color he prefers. It's the one she'd picked.

Adolph keeps talking to Dor, even though he doesn't understand a word. "Don't be scared, I'm just looking at your eyes...You have a nice face...Can you go like this, like you're sitting at the desk?" and Adolph lifts his arms in gorilla fashion. Dor catches on and does it. The whole time, however, Dor never changes his expression. Diana had warned us he's a very special boy, in both the positive and negative sense, very special.

"Are you okay? It's not too hard on you?" Adolph gets Maayan to translate.

"Yes, he's okay."

"Open your mouth a little bit," Adolph says, opening his mouth. And Dor opens his. "Hey, great!" says Adolph. "It's looking good, it's looking good." He's referring, of course, to his sculpture.

Adolph grunts, then says to Dor, "Don't worry, it's only noise." Dor determinedly keeps the corners of his mouth turned down. Now it's his turn to paint, and I tell Maayan to ask Dor if he'd like a smock to keep the paint off his clothes. He puts on the largest smock, and Adolph laughs. Dor smiles for the first time, but then he takes off the smock and works without one. Now he's working seriously, painting the sculpture he did. Maayan keeps coming over to show me the different colors she's mixed, and what paints she used to get them. She has her own paints at home. In fact several of the children do.

Adolph and Abed are mounting the sculptures we've finished onto the stands. Abed has definite ideas of what should go where. Dor is just standing, looking at his sculpture, deciding what colors to use next. He has several snakes intertwining.

Adolph wasn't treating Dor any differently from the way he treats other children. He's always talking, making noises, developing a relationship, and the children always warm up. Dor, however, seemed clinically depressed.

"Your lips, pink, pink," Adolph is talking to Mohammed, who laughs. The bell rang, well, it's not a bell, it's a computer sound playing "My Darling Clementine." Abed asks Mohammed if he wants to go for lunch, and he says no, he wants to finish this job. Actually he did already eat. Maayan and Dor have left, Adolph and Abed have mounted nine of the pieces now. Abed is mounting two more while Adolph is painting Mohammed. "I go on trip tomorrow," says Mohammed.

"To Haifa?" I ask, knowing there's a class trip.

"Yes, and Tiberias," he replies, delighted that I understood his English.

Abed is figuring out how to arrange the last five pieces, even though three of them aren't finished.

"Can you take off your hat?" Adolph asks Mohammed, who understands only when Adolph mimes the question.

"I need to clean my brush," says Adolph. While he's at the sink, Mohammed sneaks a look at the design Adolph painted on the back of his sculptured shirt.

"There! I think it's done!" Adolph finally exclaims.

"Ahhhhhh," exclaims Mohammed.

But Adolph keeps right on painting.


Our last two models came in bright and early, Taj and Amit. "It's broken," says Amit, pointing to a crack in his leg.

"Everything breaks sometime," Adolph replies.

A little later Adolph says, "You're right, it is broken, broken ."

I'm painting Taj while Adolph works on Amit, and now Adolph takes over from me and ruins the forehead! That's what can happen when two artists are working on one piece..

"You've got brown blotches all over his forehead," I'm saying.

"Oh my God," exclaims Adolph. He steps back and says, "I see what you mean," and fixes it up. Abed came in and wanted to paint, so he's working with Amit on Amit's little sculpture. That's also what happens: everyone in the room gets the painting bug.

Taj doesn't speak any English. While I was painting him, he was painting a design on his hand.

"There are still problems with the forehead," I'm saying.

"Yes, I know that," replies Adolph.

"...because I painted it with gold and you painted it with silver, so it pops out," I add. He's had me check all the sculptures before he declares them finished. It's important to have a fresh, educated eye. And actually he's the one who educated mine.

Abed and Amit were working together, but now Abed has taken over, and I don't think Amit is too happy.

"Are you finished or not?" Abed asks Adolph, pointing to the sculpture of Amit.

"No, I'm not." Adolph goes and takes a look at Abed and Amit's collaboration, "Oh boy, that looks great. Do you like it?" he asks Amit.

"Yes." A few minutes later, Amit says, "I'm finished," and Adolph takes another look and again says it's great.

Adolph keeps talking to Taj, "How are you doing? Are you tired? It gets a little tiring, doesn't it?" Taj doesn't understand a word.

"The forehead's still screwed up," I say.

"Skin color, I need skin color..." Adolph paints the forehead. "He's tired out and I don' t know what to do about it," Adolph says, referring to Taj, "The other one's tired, too."

A few minutes later, Adolph is finished with Taj, and Amit tells him he can go.

Adolph is now finishing Amit, "It's nice that you can understand me. Let's go with gold. We'll do the cheekbones, these are the cheekbones, coming right out of the between all these colors, we find the right color..." Adolph never stops chatting, Amit seems amused. "What do we do next? What's next? What's next? What's next?" Amit is sweet, charming, extremely good-natured. "I'm gonna do your hair," Adolph tells him, "We'll do it differently." Adolph's adding blue to it, "Oh boy, that looks good, it has a very authentic look to it...That looks pretty good, huh?" Amit nods his head. He's really concentrating on what Adolph's doing, mouth half open. Now Adolph is painting two white stripes on his shoes, "Without white stripes, what are we?"

"Three," says Amit, and Adolph paints three stripes. Amit wants to paint the stripes on his other shoe, and Adolph lets him. Amit gets blue all over his hands and goes to wash up. "When you come back, I'll work on the shadows...I don't know how to do this."

"Well," I say, "Shadows occur naturally, depending on where the light is coming from, so you don't have to do them at all."

"It's nice to play around with them."

"What's the time?" asks Amit.

"10:30," I reply. "Do you have a class you want to go to?"


"What time's the class?"


"Do you want to go?"


"I'll put a little silver on your shirt and then you can go," says Adolph. "Oh, that's going to be great, it'll be great with the drawing on the shirt. Sue, you better go take a quick look because I'm almost finished, I think, and the kid's tired."

I take a look. "You've got a problem with the eyebrows."

"Okay, then you do them. Amit, you stay there a few more minutes, my wife's gonna do your eyebrows."

I say, "I'm not sure I like the eyes. Do you want me to work on them?"

Adolph takes a close look and says, "No, I like them."

Actually I'm glad. I didn't want to screw around with the eyes...and now we're finished. Adolph's gone to look for Abed to fix the broken foot and help us mount the sculptures.

He found him.

"Before we leave we have to take the cover off every single one of these jars and clean the lids," Adolph is saying. Uh oh, how many jars? I'd guess fifty. Whoops, I counted, it's seventy-five.

"Is the swimming pool ready yet?" Adolph asks Abed.

"Friday, only the children's pool is ready today."

"Maybe I'll go swimming in that," says Adolph. "Do you like swimming?" he asks Abed.

"I don't like the pool. I don't like water. I was born in the desert."

Adolph tells Abed that our new grandchild was born yesterday and asks him if he wants children.

"I don't want anyone to turn out like me," he replies. I think he turned out particularly well, but I'm too busy writing to say anything.

Adolph says something about ego, and Abed says "Ego! It's just the opposite!"

Adolph and Abed are mounting the last five, with suggestions from me (which Adolph finally takes). Adolph says, "It's exciting!" and Abed says "Exciting?" He doesn't know that Adolph has been obsessed with this project for over three years and it's now just about over. "It's exciting this damned thing is almost done. Isn't that amazing? It's an amazing phenomena," says Adolph.

"When are you leaving?" Abed asks.


"Tomorrow! What about exhibition?"

"There is no exhibition."

"But you can't leave them here. The kids will break them. The kids here are too violent. There are no rules."

"No rules? How do the kids like that?"

"They love it, of course they love it."

"Did you like school?"

"For me school was a prison. That's what made me stupid. I should be a professor now, but they made me hate school."

"You went to school in Beersheva?" I ask.

"Near Beersheva. In my time they were beating us."

"They were beating you?"

"They were beating us for stupid reasons. I went twenty-four kilometers on a donkey to school every day, summer and winter. If you were five or ten minutes late, they beat you. They killed our motivation...For punishment they would make you copy a whole book. In high school I beat my teacher. For revenge."

"Was he someone who beat you?"

"He was beating us across the back of the hands with the side of a rule, a rule."

"A ruler."

"Yes, all year he was beating us."

"Was that school just for Arabs?"

"Yes, but that school has changed very much now."

"Were the Jewish children getting beaten too?"

"Yes, in that time it was very different."


Since our project is completed, this morning we walked over to the closest kibbutz, Nahshon, about three kilometers away. The Australian had told us about it. An artist whittled sculptures into the white rocks that are so prevalent in the Jerusalem area, and there are hundreds of sculptures on the kibbutz.

After she saw the piece yesterday, Dorit sent the headmaster to take a look at it. He loved it and wanted to think about a place for it. So after our walk to Nahshon today, we stopped by his office to see him.

He said first of all that the piece was very fantastic, that he'd had had no idea of what to expect, and it was really very fantastic, there was no way to thank us sufficiently.

He wanted to know how it had been for Adolph working in the school. Diana had always been worried that maybe Adolph wasn't comfortable. Whenever there was a problem, she'd call his office immediately to make sure everything was solved. We assured him we loved working there, loved working with the children. It was a great experience.

He said it was wonderful for everyone involved. His daughter learned so much from the two days she spent with us, and not just about art. Actually his daughter had been very special to us. She's a tall and serene Arab beauty. She spent two full days with us because the first time she came to pose, Adolph noticed her clay leg had broken off at the knee, and he had to repair it. It took the whole day for the epoxy to dry. She stayed in the room with us and sculpted tiny mice out of putty. When she came to pose the following day, she was wearing a bandage around her real leg in the same spot the clay leg had been repaired.

The headmaster also said the other night he went to a parents meeting at an Arab village on the other side of Abu-Gosh and he asked the parents if they had any problems, and they said yes, why didn't all their children get a chance to work with that visiting artist. And he was stunned. He'd had no idea what was going on.

That was too bad. There are one hundred twenty children in the school, and we worked with only sixteen, and perhaps sixteen of the choice students, for they certainly were creative, bright, and a pleasure to work with. Diana did occasionally bring her art classes in to show them what was going on. I think she hesitated to interrupt us, even though we told her it was fine.

He said the piece should be in the middle of the school, and he'd figure out a way to display it safely. Frankly, for me the conversation was a relief. You never know whether or not something you give, no matter how great, will be duly appreciated and treated with respect.


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