Earlier this week the Boston regional office of the New Israel Fund (NIF) hosted the opening night of a new photography exhibit at Temple Beth Zion called, “Lighting the Way: Images from the Tag Meir Coalition.” Founded by Gadi Gvaryahu, Tag Meir is a coalition of over 40 groups that respond with intention and kindness after a hate crime or an act of terror. The photographs show Jews and Palestinians coming together in the rubble of hate vandalism, in vigils denouncing racism and violence, and ceremonies celebrating commonalities. The Jewish Arts Collaborative is a co-sponsor of the exhibit.
Libby Lenkinski, NIF’s vice president for public engagement, came from New York to help open the exhibit. She told JewishBoston that Tag Meir is a play on the Hebrew phrase “Tag Mechir.” The latter was coined by the settler movement, meaning “price tag. “The message is that each attempt to achieve peace between Jews and Palestinians exacts too high a price,” Lenkinski said. “The phrase is sometimes spray-painted at the site of a violent act.” In response, Tag Meir was created as a “light tag” organization. As Lenkinski noted, “It’s about showing up after a hate crime, a racist act or vandalism and offering comfort to the victims, no matter who they are.”
“Lighting the Way” is a poignant collection of moments from Tag Meir’s work that photographer Yossi Zamir has captured. Each year Tag Meir is present at rallies, vigils, meetings and even condolence or shiva calls to change the public’s perception of what an Israeli reaction can be to hate and racism. Said Lenkinski: “Gadi Gvaryahu says, ‘We have to make a crack in the story. We start small, but we keep showing up.’ Tag Meir shows up in Jerusalem on the day of the March of Flags, one of the tensest days of the year in Jerusalem. Members of the group offer white flowers to the residents as signs of peace. They comforted the family of a Palestinian boy who was murdered, and paid a shiva call to the family of a terror victim.”
Debuting Zamir’s photographs in the United States was the brainchild of Sophie Hearne, a 2017 NIF Naomi Chazan Global Activism Fellow who lives in Boston. Hearne traveled to Israel with a cohort of 14 other fellows from around the globe in the summer of 2017 to learn about NIF’s work on the ground. Hearne said she had been to Israel only once before as a teenage participant in what was the precursor to the Diller Award. “I always wanted to go back,” she said. “This time I was doing it in my grandmother’s memory. She was a co-founder of Israel Religious Action Center and a world traveler. She said that the two places she always wanted to go back to were Morocco and Israel. I went to both places in her honor.”
As for the fellowship’s namesake, Naomi Chazan, Lenkinski explained she is a famous political scientist in Israel and former deputy speaker of the Knesset, who served on behalf of the Meretz party. “For many of us she is the godmother of the Israeli progressive movement,” Lenkinski said. “She has done a lot of scholarly work on gender mainstreaming and feminism. She advocates a shared society between Jews and Arabs and does socioeconomic work between Jews and Arabs. She’s also very interested in the Jewish Diaspora’s relationship with Israel.”
For her part, Hearne said she was “empowered” to bring Zamir’s photographs to Boston. “I wanted people to come and see and feel for themselves what Tag Meir does,” she said. “These photographs give people perspective on the organization’s work.”
In her remarks at the show, Lenkinski shared a quote a friend had posted on Facebook: “‘If you can believe it can be broken, believe it can be repaired.’ Let us lift up and celebrate the work of our beloved colleagues in Israel together. Tag Meir exemplifies this quote by comforting victims of hate crimes. We can overcome the divisions and challenges. There is another way. Through brokenness we can find repair.”