When I was a little boy, the sculpture shaped like a seagull at the edge of Independence Park on the Tel Aviv beachfront frightened me. The mysterious story of the two pilots, David Sprinzak and Matityahu Sukenik, who disappeared with their plane when it dived into the sea in 1948, fired my imagination. The two were memorialized in 1952 by Benjamin Tammuz and Aba Elhanani in this monument, one of the most impressive in Israel - with the tall plinth soaring on the chalky sandstone hill, topped by the metal bird facing the sea, its wings spread.
Since then, many more monuments have been erected in the country and now they are the dernier cri in outdoor sculptures. There isn't a city or a suburb, a town or a metropolis without a round plaza and an outdoor sculpture of marble, iron, sandstone, brass, bronze or plastic. Sometimes it seems as though a mayor's reputation is measured by the quantity of statues he erects in his town. The mayor gives an order, the curator curates, the tender gets issued, the artist gets to work - and bingo, another sculpture.
Recently we did a sculpture tour of the country. Our random trip began with a great vision. A brightly colored metal Theodor Herzl stands silent on a sidewalk at the entrance to Herzliya, leaning his bearded chin on a street ad for for the blockbuster movie "The Hunger Games." If you scan some code on a pack of sugar-free gum, you get a free ticket, the ad says. Yuval Mahler is the artist who created this Herzl, and the message on the accompanying sign seems to speak for itself: "There is no greater reality than this." The vision has become a reality.
Some distance to the northeast of there, Weizmann Boulevard in Ramat Hasharon has become statuary row in the one-time strawberry-farming village: "Facing my Father (Chess Game )," bronze, Zvi Lachman; "Dagon," iron, Motti Meller (with help from Dalia and Eli Hurvitz ); and "Large Head," iron, David Gerstein.
There's a sculpture exhibition across from the well of the moshava, which also served as a communications station in the days of the Haganah pre-state underground. Now three Arab laborers, two of them Israeli and one of them Sudanese, are working on dismantling artist Sergio Lerman's show, called "Values," along the boulevard there. "People are different from one another but equal to one another" - this declaration on a sign is also being dismantled. The boulevard has to be cleared for the ceremony on Memorial Day.
Across from the avenue of sculptures stands, in silence, the marble memorial to the sons of Ramat Hasharon, numbering about 200, who fell in Israel's wars, with the inscription "They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions" (2 Samuel 1:23 ). A smaller marble plaque lists the city's fallen in acts of terror - eight names including that of military man and right-wing politician Rehavam Ze'evi. An rather mysterious sculpture stands at the entrance to the town: in memory of Judge Adi Azar, "whose life was cut short because he was a judge." The penthouse in the building behind it is up for sale.
The town of Or Yehuda is no less sculpted, but its resemblance to Ramat Hasharon ends there. The main approach road is adorned with metal birds - pink plaster storks, or maybe they are flamingos - on every electricity pole, and spills into Dino Rokach Square. The first Dino Rokach was one of the founders of the town and also the founder of Dino's Taverna (glatt kosher food available if ordered in advance ), which overlooks the square. His grandson, also called Dino Rokach, is now managing the taverna, which is surrounded by innumerable other restaurants and eateries, equally legendary and authentic. The monument in the large plaza has burbling waterfalls, polyester crocodiles, waterfowl and rocks.
The plazas that follow in our tour display for residents of Or Yehuda a wide variety of outdoor statues of animals. At the first: a flock of goats grazing in a meadow. The next is already something else: a herd of cows grazing in a meadow. Next to one of the cows stands a warning sign: "This site is protected by security cameras," lest someone rustle a cow or two. The company responsible is called Hadaikan - which means "someone punctilious." A gigantic trash receptacle next to the herd is overflowing. There is also a flamingo (or stork ) at the corner of Haim Bar-Lev and Yigal Allon, and there is only one plaza in town that has neither a sculpture nor a painting: At Gabi Ashkenazi Square, dedicated only recently, there's an olive tree. A real one.
At the corner of Herzog Street and First President Street in Rehovot: Merkava Square. A huge stone sculpture stands in its center, one side displaying the eponymous tank, life-size, and the other a flower bed. The belly of the tank rises skyward, its rump is sunk in the ground. The artwork was erected in honor of Maj. Gen. Israel Tal, designer of the Merkava. Overlooking the tank in the heart of the neighborhood are apartments where Weizmann Institute scientists live.
A bit north of there, in the middle of a square in Nes Tziona, a huge stone hand rises to the sky, holding a colorful iron bouquet of flowers. The sculptor's name, Moshe Haimovich, is engraved on a metal plaque beneath this large outdoor sculpture and alongside it is his phone number. The plaza with the hand and the flowers, too, is now decorated with flags in advance of Independence Day.
On Armored Corps Way at the corner of Givot Hakarkur Way is a replica of the Moai, the mysterious monolithic human statues of the Easter Islands, carved in rock. The original Moai are a thousand years old and it is still not clear who carved them. Here too, in Nes Tziona, there is no indication of the artist's name and phone number. Next to the square there is now an unprecedented sale of penthouses, with discounts and "prestigious premium packages."
A metal almond tree at the corner of Reuven Lehrer and First Quorum streets, which has two birds nesting among the eternal almond blossoms, is dedicated to "The Families of the First Quorum." The plaza itself was designed by descendants of the Biluim (early pioneers from greater Russia ), Golda Meloslavsly and Sarah and Shlomo Yaffe, "to commemorate their heritage." Behind the steel, electronically guarded walls down the road hides the Biological Institute.
Yitzhak Rabin Plaza in Rishon Letzion. At a busy intersection, next to the College of Management, stands a monument by sculptor E. Weishoff: The hammers, the mallets and the hoes rise erect up toward the sky while the swords, the daggers and the spears are bent and humiliated to the ground. "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks" (Isaiah 2:4 ).
Less than an hour's drive away, Gulliver - in the figure of some sort of Mr. Israel with a Emperor Nero haircut - sits in a supermarket shopping cart atop a huge outdoor sculpture, surrounded by unnaturally oversized supermarket products: breakfast cereal and mayonnaise, cola and chocolate milk, the Bamba snack baby doll in the palm of the shopping Moloch's hands. This is the entrance to the Sharonim Mall, the holy tabernacle of Hod Hasharon.
A map of the Greater Land of Israel is carved in stone in Shlomi, a stone butterfly and red beetles adorn Taibeh, a rider on a horse stands in the square in Majdal Shams, and stone pillars for the 12 Tribes of Israel greet the settler and ultra-Orthodox inhabitants at the entrance of Modi'in Ilit.
Last stop: Netanya. At the end of Herzl Street, at Independence Square, by the edge of the seashore, a gigantic sculpture of a klezmer band stood until not too long ago. The municipality is now rebuilding the plaza, leaving no stone unturned, at the foot of a building that was destroyed by the explosion of a cooking-gas tank nearly a year ago and has yet to be rebuilt. The Park Hotel, another local disaster site, from that terrible Passover seder night in 2002, is visible to the left.
"In the near future Independence Square will become an innovative digital and leisure culture experience - with the greetings of the mayor, Mrs. Miriam Feierberg-Ikar." King David is in charge of security for the project, according to the sign. On the way down to the sea the Latin American Sculpture Promenade, donated long ago to the residents of the "diamond city," still stands. The best sculptors of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic sent their best sculptures here: "Passerby," "Sprouting," "Sex," "Encounter," "Bridges" and "Mediterranean Sea."
But where are the klezmers? At the edge of the earthworks, hidden among pipes and sewage, wrapped in plastic sheeting, lie all the musicians. The cellist on his tummy, the drummer flung on his side and the fiddler sprawling on his back. The cellist's huge hand peeks out of the plastic wrappings, as if calling for help. When the digital plaza arises, perhaps they will return.
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