On the last night of Chanukah, in a world that responded to a 21st-century pogrom by toppling menorahs and stabbing Jews, a new candle was lit when the first Israeli art gallery in New York City opened on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The light was magnified by the fact that the art world has historically been quite hostile to Israel.
Gordon Gallery, a prominent contemporary art gallery founded in Tel Aviv in 1966, opened its New York City space with a group show featuring such leading Israeli artists as Gilad Efrat, Moshe Kupferman, Yaacov Dorchin and Rita Alima. The new space marks the gallery’s sixth location, with two galleries and a sculpture garden in Tel Aviv and two galleries in Jerusalem.
In 1977, Gordon became the first auction house in Israel. Representing 40 Israeli artists and 10 art estates, Gordon “aspires to deepen understanding and celebrate the cultural heritage embedded in Israeli art,” according to the gallery. The opening exhibition is meant to introduce contemporary Israeli art to a wide New York City audience—long overdue and desperately needed. The new space was supposed to open in November but was pushed back for obvious reasons.
“After the opening last week, the feeling is truly fantastic,” founder and director Amon Yariv told me. “We received amazing responses and a huge crowd of art lovers, many of whom we didn’t know before.” Yariv also curated the opening exhibition. “For our NYC gallery, it comes at the right time to open and a natural evolution after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
I asked him what he hoped to accomplish by opening the first Israeli art gallery in New York City. “We felt the new gallery could be wonderful for the Jewish community in the city, and an important addition to the local art scene. … For a Jewish person, it’s the most challenging time, but it’s also the best time to bring people to support Israeli art and culture, and we’ve been getting a lot of support in that context.” Part of the exhibition’s proceeds will be donated to the victims of the Oct. 7 attack.
Opening night was indeed magical. The space was packed and included an age group rarely seen in NYC galleries: kids. Hebrew flowed through the conversations, and I don’t think it was lost on anyone that we were on the Lower East Side, where many of our families landed after fleeing Eastern Europe.
After more than two months of hell, we allowed ourselves to feel joy. Throughout the evening, a children’s song kept running through my head: “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.”
My favorite piece was an oil on canvas by Moshe Kupferman (1926–2003), “Untitled.” Kupferman moved to Israel in 1948 and helped establish a kibbutz in the Galilee. While living and working in relative isolation, Kupferman developed an artistic style heavily informed by both religious discipline and the rigor of kibbutz life. According to the gallery: “Through a subtle interplay of line and color, the work reflects a tension between what is seen and what is concealed.”
Precisely the tension that Jews have always had to live with.
For a small, persecuted people, we create a lot of light. Yes, we are commanded to do so, but I also think that creativity is one of the ways we have survived. And the truth is, one cannot create art—or anything—if one’s soul is full of hate. It is something our enemies have yet to learn.
Walking out of the gallery, past the security guard on the sidewalk, I tensed up as I have every day since Oct. 7, not knowing if I would be accosted by the seemingly endless haters. But this time I felt protected by an aura, an iron dome, of not just light but resilience, something our immigrant families had to develop while walking those same streets.
“Lights will guide you home” goes the line from Coldplay’s “Fix You.” Until they guide us to our real home, the exquisite light of Israeli art will be brightening New York City day and night. The haters, especially those in the art world, are just going to have to get used to it.
Originally published by Jewish Journal.