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I’m an Israeli artist of Moroccan descent. Is the Holocaust my story to tell?

(JTA) — Every artist embarks on a path of self-discovery. Any time I find inspiration to create and to paint, I find myself on a journey of trying to comprehend what aspects of life define and characterize my identity.  When I paint, I grapple with the question of “Who Am I?”

Roughly a year ago, I was approached with the opportunity to participate in a new cultural program at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The residency program enabled me to, for the first time in many years, spend time at Yad Vashem, connect with the stories of Holocaust survivors and victims, gain inspiration from the massive collections housed on the Mount of Remembrance and meet dedicated scholars and experts in Holocaust remembrance and education. 

At first, my journey of introspection led me to question how I connect to the Holocaust. Is it bigger than me? Is it my story? As a sabra and child born in Israel to Moroccan parents of Sephardic descent, I felt disconnected from the Holocaust and apprehensive about taking on this daunting task. 

I also began to wonder how my aesthetic and artistic expression could adequately portray the Holocaust and our collective responsibility to never forget it. The deeper I waded into the stories and exhibits at Yad Vashem, I began to realize that the Holocaust affected me not only as a Jew and a human being, but as an Israeli. 

The Holocaust is a significant part of our collective Jewish history, regardless of our ethnicity. While Hitler’s tyranny did not reach Morocco, the suffering and pain of the Jewish nation both past and present affected all areas of the world. Many Israelis grow up hearing firsthand accounts of the atrocities of the Holocaust from their parents and grandparents. In my childhood home, Holocaust culture wasn’t in our food, in our clothes, or in our conversations, but it was palpable on a national level. It was a visceral feeling that the Holocaust is a tragedy forever etched inside every Jew and every Israeli for the simple reason that we are a united people committed to unwavering faith and fortitude in times of terror and destruction. 

Simply put, I’m the Jew that suffered in Egypt at the hand of Pharaoh, I’m the Jew that persevered during the destruction of both Temples, I am the Jew who survived the ghetto and the nightmare of Auschwitz. I am a part of a powerful collective glued together in overcoming adversity and never giving up. 

That notion is especially on my mind during these four terrible months since Hamas killed 1,200 people in their attack on southern Israel. The trauma that we are living through has hit all parts of Israeli society, and to an extent has connected us all to the memory of the Holocaust. In the days following the harrowing events of Oct. 7, I felt numb and incapable of creating any form of art. That numbness and incapacitation is still creeping inside of me. 

And yet, after my greatly meaningful visit at Yad Vashem, only days after the massacre, and in the dark shadow of these difficult months, a myriad of emotions came together for me, expressed in my current exhibition displayed in the Museum of Holocaust Art at Yad Vashem. 

In this exhibit my works portray this debilitating feeling, this abyss, a wrestling match with faith, but also a sense of purpose and meaning in portraying this struggle and our desire to soldier on. That to me is also the lesson of the Holocaust. 

A detail from Shai Azoulay’s painting “Third Generation.” (Courtesy Yad Vashem)

My residency gave me a jolt of newfound purpose to paint and brought me back to life. And within a short period of time I found that the artworks in this exhibition poured out of me, and the works were finished rather quickly. I’ve titled my exhibit “Bigger Than Me” in that I still find the task of portraying the concept of Holocaust memory greatly unnerving and intimidating. I chose to express this feeling metaphorically in two paintings in the exhibit, “Bigger Than Me” and “Simchat Torah,” both of which depict shoes that are enormously big. 

Most importantly, I portrayed myself in several of the artworks to emphasize the personal and emotional journey I took in understanding how I fit into the story of Holocaust remembrance.

I was immensely inspired by some of the most iconic spaces in Yad Vashem, in particular the Hall of Names. In the painting “Above the Shtetl” I chose to depict the intimate encounter I had with the faces displayed in the cone-shaped installation featuring some 600 portraits of Holocaust victims. I found myself in search of something or more accurately someone: someone I might connect to, through their faces, their eyes. I looked to see myself, or maybe someone who looked familiar even though I knew I had no familial connection to the victims. 

While inside the hall, I envisioned this gravitational force pushing me up, as though I was drawn into a vortex that pulled me into the air, in order to see the faces of those who were murdered. Like Yad Vashem itself, it enabled me to connect with the history of the past by way of bearing witness to the stories, identities and belongings of those who were lost during the Holocaust. My flight, hand in hand with my wife, is similar to that felt by many visitors to the museum.

My encounter with Yad Vashem uncovered a deeper level within myself. The beauty in that is that I am unsure where it will lead me. I am grateful to Yad Vashem for giving me this gift: a new layer of my Jewish, Israeli and artistic identity. As an artist always continuing his journey of self-discovery, and looking for newfound sparks of inspiration, to me, this is the greatest gift I could ever receive.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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