People making a difference: Andi Arnovitz
This Israeli fabric artist stitches Jewish and Palestinian themes into 'Garments of Reconciliation.'
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Around the same time, however, the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, hit, darkening the mood. She created a powerful three-dimensional piece called "Tehilim Belt," meant as a takeoff on a suicide belt – armed not with explosives but with little rolls of paper prayers of tehilim, the Hebrew word for Psalms.Skip to next paragraph
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"Essentially, it was flipping this destructive thing on its head and making it a prayer for peace," she says. "I'd have to be living in La-La Land not to be aware of the conflict and not to have it affect my work. As a mother of five kids, two of whom have already been through the Israeli army, and as someone who has close friends who are Palestinians, I am constantly wading through these relationships."
To feed both her art and her penchant for collecting, she developed friendships with dealers in textiles, jewelry, and other Middle Eastern handiwork. Along the way, she befriended a Palestinian bead dealer named Badawi. She and David would accept invitations to visit Badawi and his family in their village – a prospect that frightened some of their friends.
"The average Westerner doesn't understand Arab hospitality," she says. "They don't understand that when you're invited to someone's home, you're taken care of, and nothing is going to happen to you."
She enlisted the helping hands of others, too. She hired an teenage Israeli boy – a friend of one of her children – to tie knotted fringes similar to those on a Jewish prayer shawl. Ibrahim Abu Khalaf, a Palestinian fabric dealer, played a key role in helping to bring the garments to life. He helped her find the right kind of black Egyptian cotton and had some of the sewing done in the Palestinian town of Ramallah.
"I don't know what was going on in her mind when she decided to put the Palestinian embroidery with the Jewish tallit [prayer shawl], but I think she wasn't thinking politics," Mr. Abu Khalaf says. "She's a woman of peace, and sometimes she has a vision of something that she needs to share. I think if she were prime minister, we'd have peace tomorrow."
Arnovitz did not set out to be a peace activist, but says she can't help but let life amid the conflict influence her art, calling it representative of the paradox of living here, she says.
Since tsitsit fringes are used as part of men's prayer, she decided to have hers knotted differently than they would be when made for religious uses, and with a different number of strings. Then she dyed them in bright colors to match the Palestinian embroidery.
"I was concerned that some rabbinical authorities would come along and say I'm tampering with a holy garment," she says. "But I think quite the opposite. I'melevating it." r