Yesterday morning, sitting at a coffee shop in Jaffa, I reached my limit of how long I can stay in Israel. Three months ago, I decided to travel to Israel, my birthplace where I hold citizenship, for a self-appointed “artist residency.” But my frustration about the culture clash and socio-political angst I feel here, the lack of support I get as an artist, combined themselves with feelings of loneliness that I never feel in New York. I was done.
As an ex-Haredi person who does not really have family, I start feeling a bit alone in the world when the Jewish holidays approach. At least when I’m in New York City, I feel it less, because I’m not just surrounded by Jews or observant/traditional Jews. I don’t have to think about it.
But when I’m in Israel, it seems like everyone gathers with their family or friends to celebrate the holidays. Every Friday afternoon, the streets of Tel Aviv empty as people head to their parents or friends for Shabbat dinner. I don’t have a community in Israel. I don’t have family I feel close to. Listening to acquaintances talking about their Rosh Hashanah plans—or even overhearing someone at the coffee shop ordering fish on the phone—makes me feel extremely vulnerable and alone.
Suddenly it hit me—I can invite myself to a Rosh Hashanah dinner by transforming this table with my art.
But even when I feel alone, I’m not all alone, because I have my art. Since I landed in Israel, I have been spending every waking moment creating art—public murals, spontaneous upcycled pieces on discarded items around the area where I’m staying, commissions, and studio art. And through my work, I’m making connections with all sorts of people.
Just as I was sitting in the coffee shop at the peak of my loneliness, I looked over to my left and noticed a mint green table discarded on the street.
Suddenly it hit me—I can invite myself to a Rosh Hashanah dinner by transforming this table with my art. I spent the next hour drawing with acrylic markers that I always keep in my bag. I created what I imagined the dinner table and discussion to look like if I had been invited to one. As I took my pain to the art, I tapped into my frustration about the issues in Israel that I want to bring to the table with Israelis—racism, COVID, climate change, the Occupation, generational trauma, and so many more.
I completed the table, signed my name and walked away, as I typically do when I upcycle trash on the street. This morning, back at the coffee shop, I noticed the table was still there. I realized this piece is too valuable to me to leave at the curb, as I had done so many other times. So, with the help of a friendly coffee shop buddy, we schlepped the table to my studio.
Shortly afterward, I ran into a friend and shared this very story about the table. She invited me to join her family for Rosh Hashanah dinner. I’m contemplating whether or not I should go. I am touched by the invitation, but it might be awkward since I don’t know her family., And I feel like I already celebrated Rosh Hashanah at the dinner table with my art.
Sara Erenthal is a Brooklyn-based, full-time, self taught, multi-disciplinary artist. She is currently working on a solo exhibition in Jaffa to open in October. Curated by Dr. Elad Yaron, the art installation will explore the conditions of her rented apartment and personal history and connection to Israel. Follow Sara on Instagram.