In Hamas’ destruction of Kibbutz Be’eri, the terrorists also came for curator Sofie Berzon MacKie and her family. They survived, but the kibbutz’s gallery was burned to the ground
This article by Gilad Melzer for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was published in Haaretz English version on November 2, 2023.
On Friday October 6, Sofie Berzon MacKie, the curator of Kibbutz Be’eri’s gallery, was busy preparing herself for a long day at work the following morning. She knew that Saturday was the last day of a week-long Sukkot holiday, and hoped that visitors would throng to the current exhibition shown at the gallery, “Shadow of a Passing Bird,” by photographer Osnat Ben Dov.
But at 6:30 A.M. she realized that wasn’t going to be the case: once again, missiles were exploding on the kibbutz near Gaza where her parents had moved when she was 7. Together her family, used by now to such barrages, she entered her home’s safe room as she always does.
But a few minutes before 7, the kibbutz’s text-messaging system started reporting that armed men had been seen walking between the houses. From that moment on, the messages didn’t stop pouring in: there are terrorists raiding houses and shooting people.
Berzon MacKie, 39, spent the next 18 hours in the locked safe room, calming her children. She wrote on Facebook: “We are surrounded by terrorists. Houses are going up in flames. I wish someone would save us.”
At noon, when the people of Be’eri were fighting for their lives and there was no help from the army, she posted the following on facebook:
“If something happens to me. I had a good life.
I loved a lot. I have had many blessings.
From terrible cards, I have had a beautiful life.”
In the hours that followed, I kept a close eye on Berzon MacKie’s Facebook page. Silence.
At 4 A.M. the next day, she reported that her family had been rescued. And, as she wrote a few hours later when she was evacuated from the Gaza area: “We were rescued. I have nothing to say about the horrifying ordeal we went through, as a family and a community. I am devastated.”
More than 108 people were massacred in Be’eri. Houses were completely destroyed. The community has effectively been wiped out. The catastrophe in nearby communities was no less severe.
The gallery, its archive and the entire exhibition were burned down by the Palestinian terrorists. Instead of having Osnat Ben Dov come to Be’eri to talk at her exhibition, Berzon MacKie and her family are staying at the artist’s home.
The weight of generations
On October 4, 1986, exactly 40 years after the kibbutz was founded, Be’eri Gallery opened in the basement under the dining room. As its founders Alon Kislev and Orit Svirsky wrote, the gallery aimed to “bring the best of contemporary Israeli art to the country’s outskirts, and to expose the public to the culture and art happening around the country.” Svirsky was the first curator. As she put it, she and Kislev hoped to “add spiritual consumption to the consumption of bread, to create art, for man doth not live by bread only.”
In 1994, Ziva Jellin took over as curator of this mixture of food for both body and soul. In 1996, the gallery moved from the basement to its permanent abode, the old dining room, a historic building.
Now, again in the first week of October, though the photos in the last exhibition are still on the walls, they’re destitute in this destroyed rural community.
Jellin’s parents are among the founders of the kibbutz, one of 11 established in 1946 to ensure that the western Negev would be included in the eventual State of Israel. Mission accomplished.
The gallery also accomplished its mission, hosting over 400 exhibitions through the decades. In 2011, Berzon MacKie joined as curator.
Despite the unfathomable tragedy and devastation, we can hope that the human spirit will reign free once again, on display in Israel’s south. An exhibition by the artist Mati Elmaliach had been planned because it really is a duty to bring the best of Israeli culture to the whole country. Indeed, humankind shall not live on bread and war only.
Berzon MacKie had just begun to write the text to accompany Elmaliach’s works on display. “A person carries the burden of the weight of generations, even before cell connected to cell in their mother’s womb,” she wrote.
“Dreams achieved and those written, life-changing and arbitrary decisions, environmental pressures and the ways of the world in which the person faces a burden and a journey, an attempt to find their own skin.”
For now, it’s unclear when the gallery will ever be rebuilt.
When I spoke with Sofie, I suggested that instead of rehashing the horror, we should talk about something so important to her: art and culture.
The following are two beautiful passages that she wrote for Ben Dov’s exhibition – yes, both a gloomy prophecy and a radiant hope.
An economy of longing
“There are long days and short ones, and the moon waxes and wanes.
“The light that enters the window illuminates a changing table in the artist’s home. On it are things that can be found in almost every home at a certain stage of one’s life – five and a half lemons, a few corncobs, a tablecloth, an old book. They can also be listed like this:
“Half a lemon, slightly dried / folds on a bedsheet / a pear with a small dried leaf / folds on a book’s page / eight figs in a bowl / an embroidered napkin folded over an embroidered tablecloth.
“An economy of longing, wrapped in cabbage leaves or a single white egg.”
“In this small world, light and time aren’t the only two entities that orbit each other. Beside them at some distance and sometimes entangled are also body-mind dualities and spirit-matter dualities.”
She concludes this text with a quote from the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius:
“All that you need is proper judgment in the present moment, taking right actions in the present moment and calmly accepting everything in the present moment, even what is out of your control.”
This article was first published in Hebrew in Haaretz on October 10, 2023 here.
Update: Osnat Ben Dov’s photography exhibition is currently undergoing reconstruction at the Janco Dada Museum in Ein Hod, Israel.