There is a joke within the Jewish community that defines the optimistic Jew as one that thinks things cannot get any worse. Growing up, I was regularly reminded of the oppression that my people had faced for thousands of years. Hanukkah, Passover and the Holocaust memorial day serve as reminders of this. Some in the Jewish community are hypervigilant to contemporary acts of antisemitism because of our history. Recently, when I was living in Belsize Park, I was on my walk to the station and noticed a plethora of antisemitic symbols that had been graffitied on various shop windows and telephone boxes. I remember other incidents whilst I was at school such as my classmate’s neighbour putting bacon on her door handle, and my sister being spat at in her school uniform.
However, I do not want this gallery to serve as a reminder to the Jewish people of the oppression that they faced but, rather, a celebration of how we can overcome this and turn it into beauty. Jewish people in the North London area focused on the antisemitic graffiti in Belsize Park, and often we tend to forget what came after. Beautiful art pieces sprung up in their place and we saw an outpouring of support from the local community. This is the Jewish spirit that I intend to highlight here – not naked displays of hatred, but the beauty and spirit that comes out of it. Passover, Hanukkah, and the Holocaust memorial day may serve as a reminder of the struggles we have faced, but they are ultimately a beautiful display of how we overcame and continue to overcome them.
The gallery features art from older artists, such as my grandmother Ruth Aitman, whose experience with antisemitism is inextricably linked to the Holocaust and the years that followed. It also features younger artists, such as myself, whose relationship to antisemitism is tied in with contemporary fears of terrorism and the far-right.
If anything is to be taken away from this gallery I would not only hope to bring antisemitism to the forefront of your mind but to show you how the Jewish spirit overcomes these acts.
This gallery is curated by Ethan Almond, a 22 year old Jewish undergraduate student from London, and compiled as part of a short residency with Exploding Appendix in 2021.
“This collage represents the mundane aspects of Jewish security in the 21st century. I’ve been reading a lot of securitization theory and how human beings’ relationships to certain measures impact individual security. Something I took for granted when I was younger and attending a Jewish school and synagogue: security guards. It wasn’t something spoken about in school or in synagogue much, but the presence of security guards let me know that there was a threat that I needed protection from. It took me a number of years to tie this into my Jewishness, specifically the rising antisemitic hate crime in the UK and Europe in general.
I’ve purposefully left the arms and face unfinished. Because it’s not really about the person hired to stand in front of a synagogue and ID congregants. It’s about the fact that this is needed in the first place. His uniform, as a representation of his job, is constructed and legitimised by contemporary antisemitic events and people, such as the Charlottesville demonstrations, Proud Boys, and the graffiti incident in Belsize Park.”
This image features a poster of a peace symbol with “LOVE NOT HATE” surrounding it in bold letters. This was pasted over the entrance to a wine shop after it was the target of antisemitic graffiti that was strewn across Belsize Park High Street, North London in late December 2019.
The poster perfectly encapsulates the ethos of the gallery. Whilst the local council may find it best to scrub off the graffiti and erase traces of antisemitism in their community, the wine shop has purposefully overlayed the incident. There is no intention to ‘cover up’ what happened but to retain a memory of the event. Hate is not overcome by erasure – it is overcome by bringing it to light and bravely reclaiming it, often through art.
“On a visit to Berlin I came across two silver birch trees. They had been brought there from Auschwitz and there was a sign explaining that there were many silver birch trees at the former concentration camp. The ashes of the dead were sprinkled on the ground to fertilise the trees. I found this profoundly shocking, particularly as silver birch trees are so beautiful and ethereal. The book from which the pages are taken is Le Anime Morte (Dead Souls by Gogol) in Italian. The inscription across the trunk says ‘Se in forma scompare la sua radicle e eterna’. This is from a neon artwork at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. It translates as ‘if the form disappears, its essence (root) is eternal’.”
“[This] painting with the large Star of David mound [sic] the death of Europe’s Jews. The elaborate hinge is copied from a tiny extremely old church in St Pancras Gardens. It is meant to evoke medieval times when Jews were expelled from England. The forest in the top corner represents the forests where so many European Jews were taken and murdered and buried. The shiny small pieces of paper over the Star of David May conjur [sic] the idea of tears. The Hebrew letters under these tears are scattered from the sentence Am Yisrael Chai (the people of Israel live).”
“This is from a photograph found when clearing the house of an elderly aunt. I belong to a Jewish family who came from Eastern Europe and the photographs were from all over the world. Russia, Poland, France, South America, Canada and England. They were mostly studio photographs taken 1920’s to 1930’s.
Nobody could identify who this family group were, the picture was taken in a studio in Paris, the description on the back is in Yiddish and Hebrew.
“The tree is a sculpture in the middle of the old Jewish Ghetto. Each leaf represents the families who did not return after the war. There were restrictions on the families that they had to squeeze in flats as they had to stay within the boundaries of the ghetto. It is still [in] the Jewish Quarter of the city.”