By Cindy Mindell
All Joan Polzin had to do to discover her inner activist was pay attention to media reports.
“I had a growing awareness of what looked like outrageous media bias against Israel,” says the painter and art teacher. “I started to watch the news and read papers whenever there was a conflict between Palestinians or other terrorists groups and Israel, and it always seemed like Israel was made out to be the aggressor and the hostile party. It bothered me.”
That was about 10 years ago, when Polzin was working as a psychiatric social worker at the Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown.
When her elderly parents both became ill, she found solace in painting, a talent she had first developed in childhood and pursued through college. She took classes, opted for early retirement, and returned to school at age 59, earning a Masters degree in art from Western Connecticut State University in 2005.
Polzin never took her eyes off the media reports. She began donating to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), but wanted to do more to help bring awareness of anti-Israel bias. “I realized that when you see an article or TV broadcast, it’s the pictures that stay in your mind,” she says. “If you see a story about Israeli soldiers going into Gaza to respond to a deadly attack against Israeli citizens, and the report includes footage of a Palestinian mother holding her injured baby, what will you remember? A picture really is worth a thousand words. I thought I could do paintings of what is really going on in Israel.”
But Polzin didn’t know anyone there, wasn’t affiliated with a synagogue, didn’t even know any rabbis – until a few days later, when Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown called, “just when my idea was becoming impractical,” she says. Praver had found Polzin’s name on an old volunteer list, and encouraged her to pursue her project, offering names of contacts in Israel. He invited the artist to appear on his local-access TV show, “Rabbi Rock,” upon her return.
In late 2006, six months after Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Polzin spent three weeks traveling throughout Israel. She visited places and people struck by terrorist acts – Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Café Hillel in Jerusalem, Kibbutz Kfar Giladi in the north. She spoke with parents whose children had been killed by a suicide bomber, doctors treating critically ill patients during Hezbollah rocket attacks, the mayor of Maaleh Adumim whose son was injured by a Keayusha rocket fired onto a house in Sderot.
And then Polzin came home and painted, recording the stories she had heard and the devastation she had witnessed.
She picked up teaching jobs at the Brookfield Craft Center and the Easton Senior Center. When a group of her students had a show at the Easton Public Library, Polzin discussed her Israel project with the library administration. Director Bernadette Baldino suggested the title “Two Israels.”
“When you go to Israel, everything looks pretty normal unless a conflict is happening,” Polzin says. “I wanted to emphasize the duality of a place that seems normal but has terrorism going on.
Polzin will tell her story on “Rabbi Rock” on Monday, May 17 at 8 p.m. on local-access cable TV. On Wednesday, May 19, “Two Israels” will debut at the Easton (Conn.) Public Library, 691 Morehouse Road in Easton, where it will remain until June 27. An artist’s reception with kosher refreshments will be held at the library on Saturday, May 29, 12 noon to 2:30 p.m.
Polzin will donate a substantial portion of the proceeds from sales of her paintings to Israeli organizations and hospitals that help victims of terror.
For more information about Joan Polzin and her work visit www.joanpolzinart.