“Even chance meetings are the result of karma…Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
Sheer coincidence (?) fated that when visiting Tel Aviv last winter, I stayed not far from the “galleries zone” (Ben Jehuda and Gordon Streets).
It was already night and the galleries were closed. I walked by Tova Osman Art Gallery and a fleeting glance at the wheels and Hebrew letters painted on the rough jute sufficed. I stopped and glued myself to the gallery window in an attempt to gain a clearer view. The blue letters of the phrase “Matching Hour” (Kabbalah for “time of erotic union”) radiated despite the dim light. Those were Kabbalistic symbols.
Over the next few days I kept on returning to the gallery, which for some reason remained closed, and then to my dismay the paintings disappeared.
It was only on my last Friday in Israel that I found the gallery owner, who told me that the exhibit, “Following Sabtai Zvi,” was made by Nadav Bloch and Nechama Levendel, two Israeli artists and partners in life and work. Nadav Bloch, however, had just passed away. The gallery owner offered to connect me to Nechama Levendel. And so two days before my flight back to Toronto, I drove to Ein Hod, the artist village at the foot of Carmel Mountains, to meet with Nechama.
Nechama opened the door and for a few long minutes I couldn’t stop gazing at her hypnotizing black eyes. We stepped into the serene, monastic space of the stone house and studio, which was devoid of most of the standard commodities typical to a living space. The gallery, right at the entrance, presented the works of both artists. Kabbalistic wheels, words and letters in different languages (Hebrew, Arab, Aramaic, Latin), filled the house with timeless presence.
We sat at the long wooden table next to the austere kitchen equipped with a mysterious little coffee machine that produced a most aromatic espresso.
Nechama and Nadav’s Sabbatian “adventures” began when they were invited to work and exhibit in the small Muslim town of Ulcinj in Montengro. They were sent to check out a gallery situated in an archeological site, once a fortress and now a mosque with a minaret, by the sea. Nadav had to struggle with an old iron key (almost 30 cm long) before he managed to unlock the heavy door. They entered a dark room, opened the windows to let in the light, and of all things, saw a Star of David and two trees carved on one of the walls.
After some inquiries, they found out that the exiled Sabbatai Sevi had been imprisoned in this old fortress, and that the tree is the symbol of Sevi, whose feet are on the ground yet head high up in heaven.
Not long after Sevi was exiled to Ulcinj, back then the far end of the Ottoman Empire, his followers joined him, to have their descendants live in the small Muslim town as “others” up to this day.
Determined to dedicate their exhibition to the gallery’s famous prisoner, Nadav and Nechama traveled first to Belgrade to look for materials on Sabbatai Sevi, then back to Israel where Nadav delved into reading anything related to Sevi, from historical works to works of fiction and Kabbalah.
“It was the Sabbatian idea of breaking limits,” says Nechama, “of erasing borders, not taking the given for granted, that appealed to Nadav who in his daring, sometimes naïve way, always questioned things and was open to the different and the other.”