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January 12, 1990 - Image 81

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-01-12

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Special to The Jewish News


he ancient city of
Safad rests on the top
of Mt. Canaan in
northern Israel, over-
looking Mt. Meron.
Untouched by the 20th cen-
tury, the alleyways and ivy
covered houses have been the
home of Torah scholars and
Kabbalists since the early
16th Century when Jews who
were expelled from Spain
settled and grew into a thriv-
ing community.
Anyone who experiences
the sunset over Mt. Meron,
and the spirit of the Sabbath
when the alleyways are filled
with the sounds of song and
windows with candlelight,
will understand Safad's at-
traction for scholars, mystics
and artists.
Phillip Ratner, multi-media
artist and craftsman, felt
Safad's uniqueness when he
spent a few days in the city on
a UJA mission to Israel in
1979. So much so, that he put
his energy into establishing a
museum of his work there, ex-
pressing his love of the Bible.
"I knew I had to be here;
there is an energy in Safad
that I have never found
anywhere else . . .," says the
50 year old artist who has
permanent collections at the
Statute of Liberty in New
York, the White House, the
United States Supreme Court
and the Smithsonian in
Ratner has worked with
Jewish themes and his works
include the design of
synagogues in American as
well . as sculptures at the
American B'nai B'rith Head-
quarters and Boy's Town in
In 1985, Ratner and his
wife Ellen moved from
Washington to Safed and with

Bronze sculpture in Boys Town Jerusalem by Phillip. Ratner.

he Bible Alive

An American immigrant brings
his dream to fruition in one of
Israel's historic holy cities.

the support of most of his
patrons in the United States,
began work on the restoration
of a 130-year-old building to
house his works. The old
stone mansion on the slopes
of Crusader Hill is situated at
the highest point in the city.
Originally the home of the
Turkish Governor of Safad
and used by the Haganah as
a hideout during the 1948
War of Independence, it was
in a bad state of repair, but
Ratner and his patrons took
on responsibility for its
Ratner speaks with ardor
about his work. "I've never
worked with such excitement
and enthusiasm," he says.
And it shows, for he has been
depicting scenes from the Bi-
ble in numerous sculptures,
paintings and drawings.
Using a new medium, a
mixture of painting and
sculpture, Ratner has created
biblical personalities in three-
dimensional form. The image
moves as you do and seems to
leap off the canvas, for, Ratner
points out, "The history of the
Jews is dynamic, theatrical
. . . God was dramatic when
he created the world."
Because he is not a com-
mercial artist, who has to be
aware of the critics, patrons
and buyers. Ratner can work
as a "free artist." His art is
not for sale. "Art is not the ho-
ly object it has become in the
material world — money ob-
jectifies art. The huge sums of
money paid for famous works
has turned the works into
idols. My work is not holy. It
is my subject that is . . ."
Ratner describes his work
in Safed as "an act of love."
`This is my love song to the
Torah . . . and it will continue
to be. I see myself as a Jew
having come home to work.
To create a body of work that
really belongs here."

World Zionist Press Service



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