We’ve all been in love with a pig once in our lives, haven’t we? I find that when I’m needle-felting, I need to really be “into” what I’m felting. Because needle-felted sculpture take so long to do, I have to be inspired by my subject. I don’t know if I could needle-felt an armadillo or a hippo for example, not that there’s anything wrong with armadillos or hippos. I’ve always wanted a pig, I think because they’re supposed to be very smart and they seem to have a lot of character. If you’re going to have a pet, why not have one you can talk to, right?
Here in Israel, the pig is not a popular animal; observant Jews aren’t supposed to eat pork, so if I were a pig I’d want to live in Israel. I’m a bit fascinated by the level of repulsion concerning the pig in the Middle East. When the swine flu was affecting people all over the world, the Jewish religious community couldn’t bring themselves to refer to this particular flu by it’s common label, but made up the term the Mexican flu instead. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with Mexicans. “Bury your head in the sand”, I say and “everything will be o.k!” I’ve read that it’s common to mark out the word pig with a big black marker in Muslim countries. This is done in bookstores, in children’s books as well. I wonder what the job title of the person who marks out the word pig is. Many Middle Easterners and other Muslims have no idea who Kermit’s main squeeze is, nor do they want to know.
I have fond piggy memories from my childhood. There was a pig farm near where we lived and every time my parents drove by it (must have been 10 times a week) my brother and sister and I would hold our noses and yell Pee-ewww! Every single time. So, I’m not upset that Emili has fallen in love with this particular needle-felted swine, I can think of worse company to keep.
Today is one of those days your mother warned you about. You know when nothing works, things crumble as you walk by them and you just can’t get it together, let alone feel creative. My cash register dosn’t work today, so I can’t very easily open the store; I’m sitting here waiting on a repair man (whom I’m guessing from past experiences will never show up). My computer died a few weeks ago and I’m still trying to get the hang of the new “used” one that I now have. It’s missing the software to download my camara, so I can’t download any of my current photos And my phone is broken And my website is taking a really long time to finish And then, someone came into the store yesterday and gave me some “constructive criticism” and it kinda killed my creative buz. I’m looking for a little inspiration and a kind word. It’s not always easy to find what you need here.
Many times when I walk out the door in the morning, my neighbor yells hello to me from her window. It’s not uncommon for her to ask me, why don’t you do something with your hair or are you getting fat? It sounds a little harsh, but really that’s how people relate to one another around here, rather bluntly and without any sort of filter on their mouths. You’d think I’d be used to it by now (10 years)! Don’t get me wrong, my neighbor is great! She’s a lovely woman, we just have very different communicating techniques.
Well it’s time to open the store, no repair man yet. Maybe I’ll run away to the flea market to look for some inspiration. A little voice inside my head says you must stay, you need the register to work. Another little voice inside my head says, take this Friday off, go shoot some great photos and sit at a cafe. The voices are now dueling, who will win?
What do you hope for? When I was younger, I hoped for things like a nice car, an artistic job, a higher salary, more vacation time and a little bit of a tan in the summer. Today, I hope for very different things, like a parking spot, a tiny garden space, health and happiness for my family and friends. I hope for the success of Doron and my businesses, for a wider variety of organic fruits and vegatables in the organic market where we shop. I hope for peace, even though I think this sounds like a very beauty pageant thing to say, living in Israel makes hoping for peace a daily thought.
Grafiti in Tel Aviv
When Lili was 6 or 7 years old, I was driving her to school and out of the blue she asked me what a bomb looked like. I told her I didn’t know exactly, but that I did know that we shouldn’t pick up bags, packages, toys or dolls that were left on the street or on a bench because there may be a bomb inside. I remind my three girls of this often.
Peace Doves, fresco in Sintra, Portugal
Emili was born in a hospital in Tel Aviv (do not get me started on that experience). A religious man walked into my room (without knocking) and handed me a box. Inside the box was a gas mask for babies, basically a big plastic bag looking aparatus with a breathing device connected to it. I think it was because the gulf war was going on that I recieved this thoughtful gift, I’m not sure if they give out baby gas masks on a regular basis. We picked up our masks for the two older girls from a distribution center. A mask for children looks like a space suit rather that a mask like you always see in the movies. Lili was 6 and in the first grade, Elli was 3; the night before the war started we all had to test our masks to be sure they worked. Elli was too little to test her mask , but we put Lili’s on her and that is an image I will never forget. Everyone had to travel around with their masks once the war started; they have a shoulder strap attached to them. All the school children decorated their mask boxes. You could see everyone heading off to school in the morning with their backpacks and a decorated gas mask box hanging off their shoulders.
A customer at my store told me that the little boys in her son’s class at school were playing suicide bomber. “What do you mean?” I asked her. I couln’t imagine children playing such a game. She told me that they wrap something around their wastes (a rope or belt ) and they pretend to blow up.
Tel Aviv graphiti
We moved to Israel nine years ago and the intifada started two weeks later. There were many buses that were blown up during that time (to this day I have never taken a bus here and I forbid the girls from doing so). The sobering fact is that most people here need to take buses to get to work. A bus blew up about a mile from the kindergarten where Lili was. You could tell that something bad had happened because all of a sudden, you could here radios everywhere. Every store, school and house, turned on the radio and you could feel a tenseness in the people on the street. I asked someone what was going on. “They blew up a bus on Allenby Street” a lady told me. I hurried to Lili’s school, people were yelling in the street and helicopters were buzzing all over the area, looking for the bomber. I started to breath very heavily and a sound came from my throat; I new I was starting to panic and I tried to calm myself. Once I was inside the kindergarten, many of the children were crying. I took Lili’s hand to take her home and a woman yelled at me that we couldn’t leave. I thought this must be procedure, staying put after a bombing till everything had calmed down, so I just stood there with Lili. An Israeli mother yelled back, ‘we’re leaving! and everyone pushed past the guard at the gate. I went too and we went home.
Emili holding Doron’s hand
My children attend a French school in our neighborhood. The pupils are from all over the world and speak many languages. There are Catholics, Protestants, Jews and a few Muslims (usually from Egypt) at the school. It gives me hope that my girls will understand people from many different places, that they will learn to be respectful and sensitive to other religions and cultures and races.
Well, here goes… My name is Laura Burch; my husand Doron Levitas and I have three daughters: Lili, Elli and Emili. I opened a store, it’s a children’s gallery; we design and sew everything in the store. I gave it the name Burch and daughters as a feminist twist to the more traditional naming of businesses such as Smith and sons. My daughters are young, so they don’t actually work at the store yet, but they are my inspiration, models and test subjects for everything we make. I’ve never owned a store before and I don’t consider myself business-minded, I’m an artist. My husband Doron has been guiding me, he is a business man; I’m learning.
The interesting thing and the most challenging aspect of my store is that it is in Tel Aviv, Israel. I’m a girl from the Heartland, living in the Holyland! Serving this culture and my Israeli customers isn’t the same as if my store was in my town, Chicago, Illinois. My tastes and that of many Israeli’s are very different; I have a very conservative style, their’s is much more flamboyant. Many people come into the store and ask me from where do we import. They think that my creations are from England or France, they don’t realize that everything is handmade in the store (upstairs in our studio). But never the less, everyone seems to love the store. They walk in and tell me it seem magical, like they’re in another time and place and they feel that my creation is a fairyland for children.
It really all started after we moved here about 9 years ago. I was a graphic designer and illustrator in Chicago and opening a store was never a goal of mine. I came to this strange land, the big city really, but there was nothing to buy here. Everything was made in China or India, cheap, plastic, poor quality and ugly. I started making the girls clothes, toys and gifts for birthday parties they attended. Now, I never really wanted to move here, so I used to sit around in my own little world and make things, many things. I made cute teddy bears, rag dolls, costumes, ornaments, fabric books, stuffed animals, bags….The things started to fill up the house. Doron said to me we’ll have to open a store just to have somewhere to put this stuff, and that’s what we did.