Ruth Dorrit Yacoby and Amram Yacoby

Aviva Lori
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Aviva Lori

Ruth Dorrit was born in 1952, on Moshav Arbel; Amram was born in 1978, in Arad.

Ruth Dorrit lives in Arad; Amram in Jerusalem.

Ruth Dorrit Yacoby and Amram Yacoby.Credit: Ilya Melnikov

Extended family:
Ruth Dorrit’s father, Avraham, is 99; her mother, Hilda Yehudit, is 97. Her husband, Giora, 64, is an engineer at the Mishor Rotem power plant in the Negev. They have three children, besides Amram: a son, Shimshon, 37, who is a brain researcher; and two daughters, Yael, 34, a geologist, and Shlomit, a musician. Ruth has two brothers: Roni, 63, and Gidi, 61, both engineers. She has five grandchildren.

Dickens on Lake Kinneret:
Ruth Dorrit’s parents are among the founders of Moshav Arbel, a cooperative farming village above Lake Kinneret. Her father, who was born in Iraq, immigrated to Palestine at the age of 18. As a journalist with The Palestine Post, he covered the murder of the labor movement leader Haim Arlosoroff in 1933. He served in the British Army and came to Arbel via a Jewish Brigade settlement group. Ruth’s mother was born in Canada and immigrated to Palestine in 1935. She named her daughter, who was born in the Scottish Hospital in Tiberias, Ruth. She then learned that the woman sharing her room had named her newborn daughter Dorrit. She liked the sound of the name, which also reminded her of Dickens’ Little Dorrit, so she added it.

New path:
Ruth Dorrit attended primary school in Kfar Hittim, near Tiberias, and boarding school at Boyer, in Jerusalem. After her marriage she followed her husband to Arad, where he worked. She studied psychology as an undergraduate and worked for a year in Arad’s psychological service. After Amram’s birth she embarked on a different path. “With each child I was reborn,” she says. “There was also something in the desert, and in the distance from Mother, and in the inner space which opened up in me that prompted me to enroll in a school of art in Be’er Sheva at the age of 30, and then in the Ramat Hasharon Academy of Art, the Midrasha. Since then I have been an artist and all of my parents’ expectations and worlds were shattered.”

Ruth Dorrit served in the Artillery Corps (“The best thing I got out of it was meeting my husband”). Amram served in the Givati infantry brigade (“It was only after the army that I started to look for my soul again”).

Hangar of surprises:
Nothing can prepare visitors for the encounter with Ruth Dorrit’s hangar/workshop. It is located in the Arad industrial zone and was placed at her disposal by the municipality. The immediate feeling one gets is of suffocation from the numberless objects there hanging, lying, standing, leaning on one another along the walls and on every millimeter of floor space. This is the tabernacle of her art, the home of her multidisciplinary works: paintings, sculptures, stabiles, the written word. And sounds. This totalistic, all-consuming art leaves no room for doubt: Forsaking psychology was essential.

Life in a bubble:
Ruth Dorrit’s works burst from the depths of her inner being like an endless dream peopled with primeval archetypes: the Great Mother, the cycle of life, birth and death. She has had 64 solo shows and has participated in group exhibitions in Israel in Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ein Harod and Ashdod and abroad: in Canada, Tokyo, Osaka, Cuba, Beijing, Bangkok, Singapore, Seoul, Mexico, Lima, Buenos Aires, Santiago and even the Vatican. “It’s been an inner journey of growth,” she says. “Suddenly I found myself, the girl from the small moshav, traveling the world alone.” The big wide world out there and Arad are poles apart. When she gets back home, she retreats into her private space and cuts herself off from the world. She is either in the house, in the hangar or in her yard; she orders groceries by phone. She thinks having a cup of coffee with friends is a waste of time. At night she climbs a hill in the desert and feels God’s presence. “The quiet of the desert makes it possible to hear the inner voice and its resonances, and that generates forces of creativity,” she explains. Ruth Dorrit’s work has been awarded many prizes: from the Sharett Foundation, the Education Ministry, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Culture Ministry and Mifal Hapayis (the National Lottery). She was awarded the 2010 Michel Kikoine Prize, awarded to Israeli artists, for her exhibition “The Woman of the Thousand Voices.” Her hangar is open to the public and is a venue for lectures, gallery talks and concerts in which Amram plays the oud and his sister Shlomit sings liturgical poems set to music.

Life amid chaos:
Ruth Dorrit’s children were raised in the midst of artistic chaos. More accurately, they raised themselves while their mother was mostly occupied with her art. Baby Amram lay in a cradle on a mound of sand and cement as the house in Arad was being built. While his mother worked in the garden, he crawled about naked and got completely covered in mud. “When one of the girls had a matriculation exam, the school called and said, ‘Inform her she has an exam and tell her to wear sandals.’ No one believed that such accomplished children would come out of that chaos,” Ruth Dorrit says.

Amram’s birth:
“All the births were like a miracle,” she says. “I never understood how it happens, that suddenly a soul emerges into the world. I was especially attached to him [Amram]. He was always with me, maybe because he was the last.”

Amram in school:
Amram was physically present in school. He was a quiet boy and good student, who focused on geography and art in high school. But his soul hovered outside, in the desert expanses. “Looking back, I don’t actually know what I learned there,” he says.

There was no television in the house, but Amram wanted to be like everyone else (“We felt different, because everything was upside down in our world”). “Finally we got a TV,” his mother says. “It was in Amram’s room and we all sat on his bed and watched while he slept. At the age of 13, he asked us to take it out of his room. When it burned out, we didn’t get a new one and were saved from that enslavement to this day.”

Rebel with no cause:
When there is no one to rebel against, there is no rebellion, Ruth Dorrit says. “We had no rigidity or hierarchy in the house,” she relates. “The children grew up in a way that enabled them to be whatever they wanted. There were no quarrels, even if sometimes they disappeared just when they were supposed to study or clean the house. On the other hand, they knew how to cook and sew, and the girls did the shopping at the grocery store by themselves. In parent-teacher meetings, I didn’t give the teachers the opportunity to say anything bad about my children. I would say right off, ‘Don’t I have a wonderful child?’ and the teacher could only agree.”

Seeing the light:
Amram returned from his army service to the desert in Arad and started to ponder his future. Then he saw the light. The real light, reflected from the desert, and an abstract light, which is ignited in the mind of an artist. “Mom brought home a digital camera and we decided to do something together,” he says. “I shot her works and also natural scenes, and the result was a movie: ‘Gate of Tears, Rain of Roses.’ Mom showed it at her exhibitions, and I decided to study film at Sapir Academic College.” His graduation project, a film about his grandfather, won a prize for a work by a young artist from the Perlov Foundation and was broadcast on Channel 2 in 2006. His next film, about his mother, “Woman of a Thousand Voices,” has been screened in cinematheques in Israel and internationally. He is currently working on a new film.

Light of Jerusalem:
After college, Amram returned home to Arad and continued to investigate the light, which led him to Jerusalem and a search for the hidden light in Judaism and a turn toward religion. Today he lives alone in the city’s colorful Nahlaot neighborhood, sports a Leonard Cohen-type hat, makes movies and teaches a course in “cinematic poetry” at Sapir College. The conventional definitions of “religious” and “secular” mean little to him, but “people who are occupied with this special inner light must also investigate its source.”

“It’s clear that there are irritations in the course of life, but in retrospect they are the kind of thing that disappears like smoke,” Amram says. Ruth Dorrit: “We are not dealing with anger but with the big things. Is there anything irritating about Amram? There is no such thing. I understand that he has his way and I respect it.”

Reflections in a mirror:
As Amram sees it, his independent road and the totality of his creative work are virtues imparted to him by his parents. His mother agrees, and adds the virtue of tenacity: “What’s going on around doesn’t matter; you go all the way with the work, carry it through and overcome all the obstacles.” Amram: “That spirit saved me.”

Amram’s father wanted him to be an engineer, like him, or a scientist. Ruth Dorrit comforted her husband and said that maybe Amram would take that route after his film studies. “There was a period when he thought of studying architecture, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief,” Ruth Dorrit says, “but that didn’t happen, either.”

There are no regrets about anything in the Yacoby family. They would change nothing and do nothing differently. “We are not occupied with the past,” Ruth Dorrit says. “Ili fath moth, as they say in Arabic” roughly, don’t look back.

Ruth Dorrit wanted to be a fairy or a witch. “When I was a girl, I saw myself flying over my mother’s rose garden. Nowadays I create all my fantasies and realize them in paintings. For me, there is no separation between dream and reality. I dream, build a rope bridge, draw the dream closer to me and transform it into reality. Sometimes I crash, but I know that reality is a spiral and that after every crash there is an uplifting. I have learned to fly above the abyss, and therefore I am not afraid of crashes. That is also what I taught the children: ‘You do not have to walk on the ground. Draw yourselves a map of stars, where there are no obstacles. Everything is open and possible.’” As a boy, Amram harbored children’s fantasies, though he does not remember exactly what they were. When he grew up, he took his mother’s blessing seriously.