From the avant-garde to a Crusader castle: A guide to Israel’s sculpture gardens
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From the avant-garde to a Crusader castle: A guide to Israel’s sculpture gardens

Carved from stone and forged with metal, collections of statues in cities, kibbutzes and historical sites nationwide range from somber memorials to whimsical figurines

  • Artwork made of basalt rock by Dagan Shkovsky in Kibbutz Ein Carmel, near Haifa. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Artwork made of basalt rock by Dagan Shkovsky in Kibbutz Ein Carmel, near Haifa. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A sculpture by Zvika Kantor in Kibbutz Yiron near Israel's border with Lebanon. The community's promenade features artwork and memorials dedicated to fallen soldiers. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A sculpture by Zvika Kantor in Kibbutz Yiron near Israel's border with Lebanon. The community's promenade features artwork and memorials dedicated to fallen soldiers. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A sculpture by Itzhak Golombek in Kibbutz Yiron in Israel's north. The community is also home to a zoo, winery and natural lake. (Shmuel Bar-Am.
    A sculpture by Itzhak Golombek in Kibbutz Yiron in Israel's north. The community is also home to a zoo, winery and natural lake. (Shmuel Bar-Am.
  • A sculpture by Asaf Ben-Zvi in Kfar Giladi in the Galilee. Ben-Zvi utilized rocks from the kibbutz's quarry in his artwork. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A sculpture by Asaf Ben-Zvi in Kfar Giladi in the Galilee. Ben-Zvi utilized rocks from the kibbutz's quarry in his artwork. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Sculptures by Avraham Portugali in Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael. Portugali was one of the first pilots in Israel's Air Force. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Sculptures by Avraham Portugali in Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael. Portugali was one of the first pilots in Israel's Air Force. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A sculpture by Avraham Portugali in Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, near Haifa. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A sculpture by Avraham Portugali in Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, near Haifa. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • The view from the sculpture garden in Kibbutz Ginossar near the Sea of Galilee. The community has a fishing boat found in the sea dating back 2,000 years, the period in which Jesus preached at the lake, according to the New Testament. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    The view from the sculpture garden in Kibbutz Ginossar near the Sea of Galilee. The community has a fishing boat found in the sea dating back 2,000 years, the period in which Jesus preached at the lake, according to the New Testament. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • The overlook and memorial site dedicated to fallen soldiers in Kibbutz Yiron. (Shlomi Flax)
    The overlook and memorial site dedicated to fallen soldiers in Kibbutz Yiron. (Shlomi Flax)
  • A sculpture by Yuval Lupan in Kibbutz Ginossar on the Sea of Galilee. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A sculpture by Yuval Lupan in Kibbutz Ginossar on the Sea of Galilee. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A sculpture by Yuval Lupan in Kibbutz Ginossar on the Sea of Galilee. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A sculpture by Yuval Lupan in Kibbutz Ginossar on the Sea of Galilee. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Artwork made of basalt rock by Dagan Shkovsky in Kibbutz Ein Carmel. Shkovsky worked on the community's sculpture garden for 28 years. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Artwork made of basalt rock by Dagan Shkovsky in Kibbutz Ein Carmel. Shkovsky worked on the community's sculpture garden for 28 years. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • Artwork by Dagan Shkovsky in Kibbutz Ein Carmel. Shkovsky said he created the garden to make visitors feel good. "Instead of money, I do good works," he said. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    Artwork by Dagan Shkovsky in Kibbutz Ein Carmel. Shkovsky said he created the garden to make visitors feel good. "Instead of money, I do good works," he said. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A giant radio visitors can play music on in Jerusalem's Daniel Garden, located on Jaffa Road. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A giant radio visitors can play music on in Jerusalem's Daniel Garden, located on Jaffa Road. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A sculpture garden created by Asaf Ben-Zvi in his backyard in the city of Tiberias, near the Sea of Galilee. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A sculpture garden created by Asaf Ben-Zvi in his backyard in the city of Tiberias, near the Sea of Galilee. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
  • A sculpture in Jerusalem's Daniel Garden, named for Daniel Oster, the only Jewish mayor of Jerusalem during the British Mandate, and the first mayor of the city after the State of Israel was declared in 1948. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
    A sculpture in Jerusalem's Daniel Garden, named for Daniel Oster, the only Jewish mayor of Jerusalem during the British Mandate, and the first mayor of the city after the State of Israel was declared in 1948. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

It all began in 1907, when a small group of young immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia met for a festive dinner at the Jaffa apartment of Yitzhak Ben Zvi (later to become the State of Israel’s second President).

That was the night that they founded “Bar Giora,” named for the fearless zealot who had headed Jerusalem’s defense during the Great Revolt against Rome. They had two goals: to guard defenseless Jewish communities that were being victimized by neighboring Arabs — and to settle the land.

Theft and murder were commonplace in those days, and powerless Jewish settlers were forced to hire Arab guards for protection. Jewish farmers rejected the overtures of Bar Giora because they were afraid of creating even more problems with the Arabs than they already had.

Then one day in 1909, the group heard rumors that an Arab gang was planning an attack on one of the settlements. Bar Giora, and its leader Israel Giladi, held off the attackers and frightened them so badly that they never returned. Suddenly everyone wanted guards from Bar Giora, which eventually became an organized unit known as HaShomer (The Watchmen).

By 1916 the Watchmen realized they needed roots, and were anxious for land of their own. They chose a beautiful Galilee hill where they founded the kibbutz Kfar Giladi, bringing with them the wives and orphans of fallen members.

Kfar Giladi today boasts a Roaring Lion memorial to Joseph Trumpeldor, killed while defending the adjacent settlement of Tel Hai in 1920. It has another monument as well, this one a reminder of a terrible day during the Second Lebanon War, when 12 Israel Defense Forces reservists were killed by rockets fired into the Upper Eastern Galilee.

A stone sculpture in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. (Shmuel Bar-am)

But there is also a marvelous sculpture garden at Kfar Giladi. It was created in its entirety by Asaf Ben-Zvi, born and raised in the kibbutz. For nearly two decades as manager of the kibbutz quarry, he utilized rocks and metals to produce a stunning testament to the region’s glorious landscape.

Ben-Zvi, who now lives in Tiberias, recently produced four sculpture gardens around and in the backyard of his home in the hills above the Kinneret. Artistically lit up at night, they are dedicated to Ben-Zvi’s father Yisrael, who joined Kfar Giladi after four years of fighting Germans in the British army.

A sculpture by famed pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in the Daniel Oster Park in Jerusalem. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Daniel Garden

Daniel Garden is located in the municipal complex along Jaffa Road, Jerusalem’s main byway. It was named for Daniel Oster, the only Jewish mayor of Jerusalem during the British Mandate, and the first mayor to serve the Holy City after the State of Israel was declared on May 14th, 1948.

Founded in 1892 by the Turkish rulers of Palestine, this is the city’s oldest public garden. For years the park hosted wonderful outdoor concerts — along with prowling ladies of the night.

These days it is far smaller than it was at the outset. However, along with benches, a tiny promenade, and a huge radio that passersby can set to whatever station they like, the park features exciting sculptures by two well-known artists: Avraham Ofek, whose works decorate sites all over Israel, and famous American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

A sculpture by Ariel Miron at Kibbutz Yiron. (Shlomi Flax)

Kibbutz Yiron

Kibbutz Yiron was established on Israel’s border with Lebanon right after the War of Independence came to an end in 1949. The founders were soldiers who had belonged to the Palmach and, before the war, had been training to become farmers at Kibbutz Dafna. Sixteen of the budding farmers were killed during the war, most of them in bloody battles at the Yesha Fortress.

Dedicated to the 16, the Dafna Training Farm Memorial was inaugurated in 2001. A year later, preparations began for a Sculpture Promenade next to the memorial. Interested artists were asked to visit the site, and to embrace the landscape.

While many people visit Yiron for its unusual zoo, winery, natural lake, and comfy guesthouse, the promenade is a major attraction as well. Not only do visitors enjoy this area’s tranquility, with its splendid views of the Galilee’s riverbeds, mountains and the Lebanese landscape, they also view stirring memorials to fallen soldiers and delight in eight rather avant-garde sculptures.

Belvoir Fortress in northern Israel, February 3, 2018. (Anat Hermony/Flash90)

Belvoir

A Crusader castle may seem like a strange venue for a modern sculpture garden, but Belvoir (also known as Kochav Hayarden, or Jordan Star) carries it off well. Located about 20 kilometers (12  miles) south of Lake Kinneret, Belvoir began as a small castle occupied by a local knight. After it was purchased by the Hospitaller Order in 1168, it was completely rebuilt.

The new design consisted of a concentric fortress with two completely independent courtyard castles. The result was a particularly effective defensive system, for if the outer walls were attacked the invaders could be repulsed by defenders in the inner castle.

And, indeed, after the rest of the Crusader Kingdom fell to Mameluke invaders in 1187, Belvoir held on for another 18 months until the enemy dug a tunnel underneath the outer walls and burned the wooden supports. Then, instead of fending off the invaders, the soldiers in the inner castle decided to surrender.

Much of Belvoir has been beautifully restored, including the impressive moat, many of the rooms, and the escape tunnel. In 1994 renowned sculptor Yigal Tumarkin added a number of works in an intriguing attempt to combine modern art and archeology. When the appropriate committee refused to let Tomarkin station his sculptures inside the castle walls, he placed them on the ground to produce an exciting sculpture garden.

A sculpture in Kibbutz Ginossar by award-winning sculptor Yuval Lupan. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Kibbutz Ginossar

In 1986, Israel suffered a terrible drought, and when all was parched and dry, the Sea of Galilee began to shrink. As the level of the water dropped to new lows, artifacts of countless value were revealed to the naked eye. The most important among them: a fishing boat stuck in the mud that dated back 2,000 years, the period in which, according to the New Testament, Jesus preached around the lake — often from fishing boats.

Made of wood from the Cedars of Lebanon, the boat is 9 meters long, 2.5 meters wide and 1.25 meters high. Today it is on view at Beit Yigal Allon inside Ginossar, a kibbutz and guesthouse on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee.

Award-winning sculptor Yuval Lupan was born, and lives today, at Ginossar. Dozens of his colorful and imaginative sculptures are found in a garden, around the guesthouse, and near the artist’s workshop. It was Lupan who, with his brother Moshe, discovered the “Jesus boat.”

A sculpture of nursing puppies at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael by artist Avraham Portugali. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael

From nursing puppies to a grazing horse and a statue of David, works featured in a garden at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael are quite a different genre from those at Ginossar. They were sculpted by the late Avraham Portugali who, like Ben-Zvi, was born at Kfar Giladi.

One of the first pilots in the Israeli Air Force, he had his own airplane. He would often set it down it on the landing field near the kibbutz, securing it with large rocks so it wouldn’t blow away during high winds from the hills.

Portugali asked for a day off his kibbutz chores every week so that he could sculpt. When the powers that be refused, he moved to Ma’agan Michael — where two days a week he was permitted to sculpt.

A statue by sculptor Dagan Shkovsky in Kibbutz Ein Carmel, near Haifa. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Kibbutz Ein Carmel

This week marks 28 years since Dagan Shkovsky began work on his marvelous sculpture garden. Located in Kibbutz Ein Carmel, not too far from Haifa, it is a wonderland of funny and unusual sculptures almost all made of basalt rock.

Born in Kibbutz Merhavia, Shkovsky eventually moved to Ein Carmel where he worked half of the time as an electrician and in the other half practiced his art. He picked basalt, he says, because it is an extremely hard rock and he wanted a challenge.

Shkovsky told us that he created the garden in order to make people who come by feel good. “Instead of money,” he said, “I do good works.”

You can’t help but enjoy the result, or to loll, as we did, on some of the larger pieces. And, indeed, you absolutely feel better when you leave, than you did when you got there.

Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel. Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.

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