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ClarkU Hillel engages students through Israeli art

By Stacey Dresner

WORCESTER, Massachusetts – Clark University students can now adorn their dorm room walls with Israeli art through the Israel Art Lending Library (IALL), a partnership between Israel’s Consulate-General to New England, the non-profit Returning the Sparks, and ClarkU Hillel.

The IALL, which both showcases and promotes the diverse art and culture of Israel and educates students about Israeli art and artists, was launched at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts at an Oct. 27 ribbon cutting in the school’s student union. The event was attended by special guests Israel Consul General Meron Reuben; and Arinne Edelman, executive director of Returning the Sparks.

The Israel Art Lending Library was conceived of by Edelman during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It was during a time when, because of the pandemic, travel to Israel had ceased and a lot of Hillels were not able to offer programs at all,” Edelman said. “So this was a way to bring Israel to students since students couldn’t get to Israel during the pandemic.”

In 2020, Edelman reached out to the Consulate General of Israel to New England to discuss the idea.

“We were looking for different ways to engage with students. All the trips to Israel were cancelled, so when Arinne reached out to us with the idea to create an Israel Art Lending Library, we thought it was a very creative idea,” said Amir Tadmor, director of Cultural Affairs for the Consulate-General of Israel to New England. “We were delighted to join and to contribute. We all believed in this project and thought it was promising and inspiring.” 

The first college to take part in the IALL as a pilot program was Northeastern University (where Edelman had served as Hillel executive director before leading Returning the Sparks). Northeastern students began borrowing Israeli art in 2020  during the worst days of the pandemic. The program soon began receiving interest from other schools in New England, including the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which is participating for the third year in a row.

Jeff Narod, the executive director of ClarkU Hillel, was interested in the art lending library ever since learning about it in 2020.

“When I first saw that Northeastern had it, I thought right away how much it would help to enhance our program at Clark,” said Jeff Narod, executive director of Hillel at Clark University. “So when we were awarded this by the consulate I was thrilled because it will add a whole lot to our cultural offerings with respect to Israel.”

ClarkU Hillel has now received 25 pieces of art, purchased by Returning the Sparks and the Consulate-General of New England, and gifted to Hillel. 

Clark students, faculty and staff now can borrow a piece of art from the IALL for $5 for the entire school year. 

“It is also really a gift from the artists, who normally wouldn’t make  prints or whose art we wouldn’t normally be able to afford,” Edelman said. “Some of them are several thousands of dollars and they made it affordable because it is a gift from them to the Israeli people and the American community.”

Photos of the available artwork  are displayed on a IALL link on ClarkU Hillel’s website. Participants can peruse the website to pick out one of their favorite pieces.

“The artists are from all over Israel; they are a real diverse group of artists that come from all different cultures and backgrounds in Israel,” Narod said. “From my perspective, it is so valuable because it gives students a window into life in Israel.”

“Our emphasis in the collection is diversity – exhibiting the diversity of Israeli society through art,” added Tadmor. “We have pieces of art from all over Israel, [by artists of all different backgrounds. We have pieces from LGBT artists, Druze artists, Israeli Arab artists, and religious artists – everyone has a place in the collection.”  

Returning the Sparks has now started a student intern component to the IALL. The organization has hired Shachar Pinsky to serve as the Cheryl Aronson z”l Director of IALL Campus Experience, managing the library and coordinating with Hillels, and two student interns are now in place serving as Clark Hillel Israel Art Interns, managing the collections on campus and delivering and maintaining the artwork. 

“Shachar is a former JAFI Israel Fellow, so he will be a great mentor for the interns. So the internship component is a great leadership opportunity for them,” Edelman said.

She added that there are plans for a fifth New England college to the begin participating in the IALL, but wouldn’t announce the name of the school yet. Meanwhile, she is working on more pilot programs connecting Jews in New England to Israel.

“We’re growing in other ways, so while there isn’t a pandemic and students can do other things, which is great, students still like engaging with the art and hanging it in their rooms,” she said. “We found when we studied it a little more they were spending two hours on the website poking around, so it was an educational opportunity too.”

MAIN PHOTO: Dignitaries at the Israel Art Lending library launch are, 5th  from left, Arinne Edelman, executive director of Retuning the Spark; Meron Reuben, Consul General  of Israel to New England; Jeff Narod, executive director of ClarkU Hillel; and Mary-Ellen Boyle, interim associate provost. 

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