May 18, 2024
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From Los Angeles to the Jerusalem Theater

The Jerusalem Theater has been hosting the exhibit of David Schmidt, originally from Los Angeles, entitled “Mesirus Nefesh” (“Self-Sacrifice”) which features large digital prints and mixed-media collages on life in the Israel Defense Forces. The curator, Dr. Batsheva Ida, explained, “The viewer is confronted with a difficult reality. The IDF soldiers, a source of heroic and national aspirations, are seen at moments of fragility and compassion.” Dr. Ida compares the methods employed to those of Kurt Schwitters and Josef Beuys, and to the 1920 iconic tower of Vladimer Tatlin, in their “monumentality.”

Schmidt received his degree in Fine Arts at UCLA Fine Arts in the mid-1960s. In 1969 he met his wife, Shoshana, and they got married on the beach at sunset. Then they went to Spain.

They returned to the U.S. when his father became very sick, and when he passed on, Schmidt had to deal with his own autoimmune illness for a year and a half. “When I woke up from being sick, my wife reminded me that I needed a job. So, I looked in the phone book. The only thing I’d ever done up until then, other than painting, was teaching some art classes in Watts.”

He found a section for executive placement and another for physical work. “I said, well, I’d rather be an executive, so I applied at one of the biggest executive search firms in California. When I got that job I got a haircut, put on a suit. They folded in two years and I opened my own firm.

“By the time I stopped doing that, after about 20 years, I had one of the most important executive search firms in the United States. If they were in academia, they were aspiring Nobel laureates. If they were in the government, they were at the very least an undersecretary.” He is still a senior advisor in that firm, called Insight. Today his son Aaron is the president and CEO.

Schmidt described his religious metamorphosis. “I’m walking down the street in Laguna Beach and this guy crosses the street in front of me and says to me, ‘Would you like to learn something about Jewish mysticism?’ I say, ‘Sure.’ He says, ‘Come on, the class starts in about 15 minutes.’ So I walked over, and I really liked it.

“I started a course on Tanya, and about halfway through the book, I encouraged Shoshana to light Shabbos candles. She says, ‘I’m not going to do something if I don’t know what it means.’ So she started working with the rebbetzin. And no one moves faster than Shoshana.”

Shoshana added: “I kashered the kitchen in 1992. In October, 1993, Laguna Beach had one of its famous forest fires in which 200 houses burned, including ours. Everything was gone, even some of David’s paintings.

“The house we rented after the fire was closer to the Chabad shul, although a mile straight up a huge hill, in an area called ‘Top of the World.’ The Chabad rabbi said to my husband, ‘If you walk down the hill to shul, after kiddush I will walk up with you.’ This is when we became Shomer Shabbos.”

Rabbi Goorevitch had escaped from Russia with his family, and was sent to be with the Rebbe in New York. “When he came out to California, he didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language,” said David. “We helped him at the time to get a building and organize a minyan.”

In 1996 the Schmidts moved to Israel, to the Old City of Jerusalem, and after 27 years, to Rehavia. David credits Shoshana with urging them to make aliyah. He flew back and forth to his business in America. Four of their five children live in Israel. One daughter returned to Laguna Beach, where she is a personal trainer and an author. Two of their sons were in the army. One of those is a mixed martial arts and Krav Maga instructor. Schmidt kvelled, “Each year they would select one person from each of their units to compete against each other in Krav Maga and he came in first two years in a row.” He has a grandson who was in Egoz, one of the IDF’s special forces.

After being a successful businessman for 20 years, Shoshana said to him, “Come home to the studio and start doing that again.”

“When my sons were in the IDF, they’d come home for Shabbos,” said Schmidt. “After Shoshana laundered their uniforms, and they dried, I photographed the material. I had stacks of swatches, in different tones.” Then he would take a piece of foam board and pin up pieces until he had the shape and the expression of the figure that he wanted. He gestures to one of the collages. “All these are individual pieces, and they give a real liveliness. So down to the core, these are soldiers.”

He shares some of the stories behind the collages.

“This one is called ‘Achi’ (‘My brother’). One Friday afternoon I was sitting up there on the balcony of the theater, and I looked down here and there were people gathered around this picture, listening to their cell phones. I came down and I asked them, ‘What are you looking at?’ They said, ‘This picture! They’re talking about it all over the news! There were two soldiers who were struck by a pipe bomb in Jenin. They couldn’t get out and they were hoping for the medics to arrive. And they were holding each other together. How did you make the picture so quickly?’ I said, ‘This was done seven years ago. In 2016.’ Nothing changes in Israel.

“In this one, ‘The Edge of Night,’ the soldier is walking along on graphic lines. From his perspective, he’s asleep. This happened to one of my grandsons and one of my sons. They had night hikes. The colors are all very quiet and he’s falling asleep, so he is in a different reality.”

He showed me one called “Davening at Dawn in the Judean Hills.” “This was positioned by the curator, Dr. Batsheva Ida, in the center of the wall,” he said. “It speaks for the exhibit.”

We gaze at “The Hidden Tzadik.” “It’s made up of scores of little pieces of paper. I kept adjusting it and adjusting it, so he ended up with the sweetest face in the world. Yet he has a big gun. He can’t be too sweet in Israel.”

Another work called “The Agony of Staying Awake” is about guard duty. “The most hated job in the army,” said Schmidt, “but it’s very high stakes because if you fall asleep, people can get killed. The whole base could be overrun.”

One of the collages, called “Shattered Hand,” is about his son Ari, who was wounded outside Ramallah a number of years ago.

“His hand was shattered. He had four surgeries and they didn’t know what to do. And it was just getting worse.” David found the most prominent hand surgeon in Israel. “She put him in a gurney outside her office door and gave him an IV drip for infection. When the infection was over, she said, ‘We’re going to send him home now. We’ve done what we can.’”

Shoshana added: “Ari was shot, survived, thrived, went back to school during corona and is now in hi-tech.”

There are collages called “First Responders,” “Rage,” “The Road to Jericho,” “Don’t Ask What I’m Feeling,” “No Soldier Left Behind,” “Hypothermia,” “Soldier at Kotel,” “The Most Compassionate Army on the Face of the Earth” and others.

Is his exhibit being shown somewhere sponsored by the army?

“No, but they should,” among other reasons, he said, because there are pictures of soldiers in wheelchairs. “This one is called ‘Getting Back in Action.’” He has also reached out to the Minister of Culture, hoping to have the exhibit continue in new places, including at the Knesset.

As I walked from collage to collage, being a wife, mother and mother-in-law of soldiers, past and present, I felt the tears well up inside of me as I perused the exquisitely haunting, moving images and I cried. And felt hopeful. And proud.

The exhibit will be at the Jerusalem Theatre until August 30, 2023. David Schmidt’s gallery is at 31 Ben Yehuda St., Jerusalem. His website is https://davidschmidt.art.


The author is an award-winning journalist, theater director and the editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com.

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