Coming From a Conflict Zone Helped This Israeli Find Love

Arrivals / Departures: A scholarship program for students from war zones brought Naomi to an Italian village, where she met Giulio; Moran found direction when she turned 30: making art that focuses on women and Jewish-Arab tension.

Giulio Venture and Naomi Bar at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Giulio Venture, 29, lives in Arezzo, Italy; and Naomi Bar, 27, lives in Midreshet Ben-Gurion; Giulio is arriving from Milan

Hello, can I ask how long you’ve been a couple?

Naomi: In 2013 I lived in Italy and took part in a project called Rondine Cittadella della Pace. The village of Rondine gives master’s students from countries in conflict a full scholarship, at a university in central Italy. The project was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a kind of commune for Lebanese, Serbians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and others. That’s where I met Giulio.

Giulio: I was doing a year of service and my job was to help students acclimate, find a place to do their master’s and cope with bureaucracy.

Naomi: I wore him down, because I couldn’t find a place and I just kept coming back.

Giulio: It was a tactic. (They laugh)

Naomi: We started dating after July 2014. I came back to Israel last July, and he came for two months. Then I flew to him for Christmas, and now he’s back again. It’s been going like that for about 18 months.

How hard is the long distance?

Naomi: We’re pretty used to it. But this summer, when we spent two months together in one place

Giulio: ... we traveled all over Israel.

Naomi: That was nice. The last time I went to him we agreed it’s not good to be separated for more than a month and a half.

What are you doing now?

Giulio: I work for a publisher of e-books, but as you see I am still lugging a paper book.

Naomi: I’m not doing much. I’m a textile designer, and in Italy I studied how to design leather bags. Now I’m living with my parents and developing something made out of plastic bags. I’m still at the stage of product development. The dream is to find a place where we both have work, where we can live.

Giulio: I want a place of my own.

Where would you like to live?

Naomi: Giulio loves Israel and I love Italy; we’re fine with either option. And also with Spain or India.

Giulio: If it doesn’t work out we can always travel.

Naomi: When we started out, we didn’t think the question of where to live would be a problem. We just like being together and will find a solution.

Giulio: I don’t feel there is a problem with the cultures we came from, only the physical distance.

Naomi: I would gladly have stayed in Italy – I’m still sending resumes – but it has a serious economic situation; there are no jobs. For now I’ve started to develop the things here, and I have to say that recycling plastic bags is fun. 

You wanted to go to Italy to become a professional bag designer?

Naomi: I went to Italy because I wanted to be in the village project. It was a passion since my army service. It was hard for me to find something to study, in the end I chose fashion and I had to do an apprenticeship. I was accepted to a special course of the Bottega Veneta company in conjunction with the design institute in Venice.

Bottega Veneta, wow! The real deal.

Naomi: There were admission interviews and everything. There’s nothing in Israel on that level. It was one of my best experiences in Italy. We studied design and also practical technique and planned a mini-collection of three bags. I of course did weird things, not at all in their style. The idea was to learn the work process, to understand each stage. I learned a lot.

What was it like living in the village?

Naomi: There’s no diploma and no politics. I met people. I learned about other conflicts. I spoke with Palestinians who had similar views to mine. I also tried to talk to those who didn’t speak to me at all. They tend to speak in slogans there: “Don’t look at the flag, look at the person.” My roommate was an Armenian woman who established a not-for-profit organization, and with her help I saw how much strength each of us has. It’s not just flowers and butterflies in a commune. I was there during Operation Protective Edge, the chaos had just started, and there were people who didn’t want even to sit with me, it was awful, ... We also met Italian youth. We visited Taranto with them, a region involved in World War I. The students from war regions told the Italians that war is not just computer games. That all the things they read in history books or see in movies really do happen. They teach us about peace, we teach them about war.

Moran Asraf at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Tomer Appelbaum

Moran Asraf, 34, lives in Sderot; flying to Cologne, Germany

Hello, can I ask you where you’re going?

I was chosen by Sapir Academic College, along with three girls, to go to Germany. Our scholarship was donated by an amazing woman named Maria Hier, who saw a show about Joseph Beuys that was curated by my teacher, Lior Mizrahi, and was very impressed. We will stay with her for five days and tour in the wake of Beuys, in galleries and museums. It’s very exciting. I achieved it with blood, sweat and tears.

How long have you been involved with art?

I’ve gone through multiple incarnations. I’m from Dimona originally, but I left early. I lived in Eilat and Kiryat Motzkin, working in sales, and then in Haifa, where I worked at a hostel for youth in distress. After years of searching for myself, I went to Be’er Sheva, and worked in customer service, and a lot of things happened: I stopped smoking, I became vegetarian and suddenly I realized I was wasting time and got a powerful urge to learn.

All this happened after the age of 30?

Yes. Before that I wasn’t very interested.  I went to a brief college-preparatory course for people over 30 at Sapir [in Sderot] to improve my matriculation results. I’d planned to become a social worker. It was only at the end of the course that I asked myself, “Why these subjects?” I wanted to discover places within myself that I wasn’t familiar with. There was something in me that wanted to work with the hands. And then, one day, I saw Umm Kultur on television.

Who?

Umm Kultur, a group of female performance artists from the south. I was very excited by their show and by their occupation with gender. They had studied in the arts school at Sapir – that’s how I found out about it. I went to an open house there and met Michal Shamir, who’s now my teacher, and there was a click between us.

Did you have a portfolio?

Until then I hadn’t created anything. But Michal said she wasn’t looking for a portfolio but for “souls with a unique inner world.” That dispelled my anxiety. There was some argument, but I was admitted without a portfolio.

What was it like?

I arrived with zero self-confidence and didn’t know how I’d fit in with all the young students. Now it’s nice – boys of 20 hit on me – but at first I didn’t know what I’d do. As a person, I am goal-focused. I worked very hard. I took private lessons in drawing, painting and sculpture, I had to learn everything from scratch. But it’s not only the professional aspect. There are fears, too.

What did you have to cope with?

Mostly a lack of self-confidence. I didn’t come from a home of museums. I was on my own from a young age, I worked for a living, not for my spirit. But now my soul is soaring.

What kind of art do you do?

Photography, performance and video art. I deal with my place as a woman in Israeli society, which is one of suppression and violence against women. I did a series of photos in which I dress up as a different woman each time, in a different location: a drugged girl in a filthy bomb shelter, a whorish bimbo, a widow at a memorial monument. I also did a performance work that was inspired by [Serbian performance artist] Marina Abramovic. Because of the security situation, and because I am studying in a mixed Jewish-Muslim college, it was important for me to talk about what’s going on. With me everything is transparent.

In the performance, another female [Arab] student and I sat across from each other to create a silent dialogue on experience and pain. People stopped, looked, asked. Feelings arose for which there are no words, very powerful. Afterward, the performance expanded to include more female students from Sapir, Jews and Arabs, and a guy from the Muslim community. A report about the event was broadcast on the Arte channel in France and also in Germany. Things gathered momentum. Gidona Raz from the Elmina Theater in Jaffa contacted us and we did the performance there, too, with the Women Make Peace group. In four years I turned my life completely around. Four years ago, if someone had told me I’d be living in Sderot and making art I would have said he was hallucinating.