As Israel celebrates its 66th Independence Day on Tuesday, May 6, I will reflect on how my country has made a lasting impact on the innovative and independent hub that is the Bay Area, my home since August 2012.
The first few months of this year alone have seen momentous events for Israel and the Bay Area.
The highlight was, of course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first visit to Silicon Valley, during which he signed a historic agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown to collaborate on a range of issues including water, energy and cybersecurity technology. With this deal, countless exciting opportunities can be realized.
Breakthroughs could be reached on California’s drought problems. Biofuels can contribute to producing energy that is environmentally sustainable. The privacy of individuals and the security of public systems can be enhanced by sharing cybersecurity knowledge. Increased business travel between the innovation centers of Israel and California could even result in a nonstop flight linking Tel Aviv and San Francisco.
I am very honored to have a personal role in ensuring that all the possibilities of the agreement will be pursued, and I am excited to direct its implementation over the next few years. I shall be thinking of this with pride on our Independence Day, but also of the impact Israel can make on local communities in multiple fields, including the arts.
For me, Yom HaAtzmaut is a day of great celebration, but also an opportunity to examine the driving forces behind Israel’s modern identity. This year I wanted to bring one key aspect of Israel’s identity to San Francisco — its ability to combine creative energy with a radical and constant self-examination of our actions and their morality.
No one embodies this part of Israel better than the artist Peddy Mergui and his new exhibit, “Wheat is Wheat is Wheat.” I decided to bring Mergui’s unique artwork to San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Design from April 12 to June 15, so that everyone can see the work of a leading Israeli installation artist, and children can see the exhibit for free.
Readers may ask what exactly this exhibition brings to San Francisco, in what ways it is Israeli, and how does it capture the essence of Israeli creativity. First, the name of the exhibition is not simply a mantra Israelis repeat to themselves to get through the (almost) wheatless period of Pesach. The content of the exhibition tests our most basic assumptions about the world of consumption and ethics. It offers a humorous but provocative presentation of leading brands, the connection between the marketing behind them and the actual products they describe.
Mergui forces us to rethink familiar trademarks by juxtaposing them with incongruous settings, for example a series of food packages, including “Salami by Louis Vuitton” or Gucci pickle containers. Mergui shows us that for Israelis, it is not enough to accept the packaging of everyday life, routines and rituals. We must go further in examining the most common habits, objects and behavioral patterns. Without this constant examination and creative reinterpretation, we cannot progress as a society and as a nation.
It is no accident that Israelis are known as Sabras, named after the prickly cactus. On the surface we can be tough and unappealing, but go deeper and you will find a sweet center.
I hope you will join me on Israel’s 66th birthday in celebrating a remarkable success story, but also thinking of ways in which you, too, can participate in its success by your actions, in helping me to take all the opportunities presented by the growing ties between Israel and California and find the sweet center that lies at the heart of Israeli life.
Andy David is Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific Northwest.