In 2017, Rita Poley, Director and Curator of The Temple Judea Museum at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, had an idea for a grand experiment to connect local Philadelphia artists to Israel. She imagined an art history course for both Jews and non-Jews who had never been to Israel, in which participants would discover the country and its people, its shifting narratives and diversity, all through the lens of art. With the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Israel engagement grant, she was able to make that dream a reality.

Across two Sundays, local artist and curator Cheryl Harper led the cohort of Philadelphia artists through a close examination of the work of esteemed Israeli artists. As they studied work from artists across disciplines, students discovered Israel’s rich history, political spectrum, culture and heritage. Says Cheryl, “That blend of experiences and expressions is exactly what creates the distinctly Israeli point of view.”

After the course, the artist participants couldn’t wait to get back to their studios to channel their experiences. When Rita saw the incredible work they had voluntarily created in response to the course, she was thrilled by the success of her experiment. “If I had asked those artists to make art about Israel before they were part of the program, they probably would have fallen into cliché,” Rita says. Instead, these pieces reveal a range of Israel’s facets, expressed through drawings, paintings, sculptures and stoneware.

Beginning April 13, 2018, that artwork will be on display in “Making Israel Real” at The Temple Judea Museum in Elkins Park. The exhibit also features images from the United Jewish Appeal’s archives, adding historical context to these contemporary responses. Join us for the opening night reception, which will feature a discussion with Cheryl Harper and will run in coordination with that evening’s annual Israel Shabbat service.

For more information, contact Rita Poley at

Featured artwork courtesy of: Ana Rankin, Carla Lombardi, Dganit Zauberman and Leora Brecher.