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Looking Up — New Art on the Hospital’s Ceiling

They were born almost the same week, Nehama Grenimann and Timora Avitzur. Friends from the time they were babies. Daughters of English-speaking parents who belong to Kehilat Yedidya, Jerusalem’s first left-liberal Orthodox congregation. They grew up together in a close-knit community that was intellectually, politically and socially involved. At the age of four or five, they produced their first book: Timora’s text, Nehama’s illustrations. In high school — both of them smart, sensitive, talented students — they compared notes and dreams. But Timora died at 18, after six grueling years of hospital treatments for leukemia. She left behind a sheaf of poems and a grieving community. Nehama went on to serve in the Israeli army, then to study art in Florence. Her experiences with Timora still very fresh, she wrote her senior thesis on “Hospitals, Giving, and the Social Role of Art.”

It was no coincidence, then, that Nehama Grenimann’s first big project, back at home in Jerusalem after her wedding in 2009, was an art exhibition dedicated to Timora; it opened in April at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem (Ein Karem). No ordinary exhibit, this: the 10 artists, all women, created and donated their works specifically for the ceiling of Hadassah’s Intensive Care Unit, to be seen by patients during those critical moments when they emerge from operating rooms and anesthesia and begin their recovery. It was certainly no coincidence, either, that this was very much a women’s project. Born of Nehama’s desire to commemorate Timora’s life, the idea for the show came from Ann (Chana) Cromer, one of the several artists represented who belong to Kehilat Yedidya (which, incidentally, is probably the only synagogue in Israel whose main prayer hall also serves as a gallery for contemporary art). As curator, Nehama studied the Intenstive Care Unit — doctors, nurses, and patients — to determine how the project could best serve the department. She raised funds, recruited more artists, and connected with Hadassah and hospital staff, particularly the nurses on the ward, all women.

“Timora was supportive of me from the age of four,” Nehama recalls. “She was the person who pushed me to do art, to want to change things. That’s where this project started. I wanted to give something to the hospital. Like it or not, it’s part of our lives and our community.”

The head nurse of the Intensive Care Unit, Dvora Moria, added on behalf of the hospital staff: “Nurses, unlike the society around us, are not money-oriented. We choose nursing because of its values: giving, taking care of people’s souls as well as their bodies.” The commemorative project began in friendship and creativity culminated in 10 original works of ceiling art to cheer needy souls and bodies.