The Last Event at the Katif Hotel
Last Tuesday evening a wine and cheese night accompanied the opening of my one man photography exhibition, Actualities in Black & Orange.
The idea for the evening grew out of my visit to Kfar Yam last week, to the "new" home of Nadia Matar, Anita Finkelstein and their kids. They, together with long time Kfar Yam resident Datya Yitzchaki, founded Minhelet Kela, an organization to encourage and assist people to move into Gush Katif at this critical time. The aim of the evening was to allow the veteran residents of Gush Katif and the "newcomers" to meet, to break down barriers that have arisen due to the negative press. People from other areas of Israel also were invited to meet both groups and see the "famous" hotel firsthand.
I arrived early, around noon. The gates of the hotel were surrounded by an aggressive press corps. One cameraman had built himself a platform to allow him to film over the wall; the road was all but blocked by a satellite dish around which I maneuvered with difficulty -- a rumor was circulating that the police were about to raid the premises. When this proved not to be the case, the press quickly and quietly dispersed.
Inside the hotel complex I found everything calm and relaxed. In the newly built synagogue, a group were in the middle of a Talmud lesson, in the dining hall, tables were being laid out for lunch and others were busy in the kitchen preparing the food. Still others were cleaning the public areas and planting trees on the grounds. Visitors from all around Israel were coming and going throughout the day. I didn't find the radical image the media was presenting.
The only thing that was strange was that there were no windows in any of the buildings. Apparently a couple of years ago, these were smashed by out-of-the-area drug addicts who sold the aluminum frames for scrap. The glass and rubble had by now been cleaned up by the residents. A cool sea breeze was blowing in through the openings.
A number of volunteers helped me prepare the venue for the exhibit. The hotel's former coffee shop was restored for the occasion, and Victor, who had been the old hotel's chef, arranged the room and the food. There was a shortage of electricity in the hotel, but we managed to get some lights connected.
At 6:30 people started arriving. The few fluorescent tubes were augmented by the warm light of the sunset streaming through the large glassless "windows" on the west side, the sun retiring for another day into the Mediterranean Sea.
About 200 people attended the exhibition. Various companies from around Israel, showing their support to the cause, donated wine, cheese, fruit and other delicacies for the occasion. Recorded and live music wafted on the sea breeze. Newcomers, veteran residents of the Gush and visitors mixed freely. Everyone was having a good time.
The ambiance was electrifying.
Eitan ben David, the owner of the hotel, was present. He publicly expressed his joy at seeing the hotel again "coming to life". The entertainment he said, was reminiscent of summer evenings when the hotel was full of visitors.
One hotel resident, a tour guide, best summed up the evening. He said that whilst my photographs represented a certain surrealism in Israeli society today, reality was far more surrealistic. "Last night", he continued, "we were building barricades beacuse we were expecting the police to raid the hotel during the night; and tonight I'm drinking wine and looking at fine art".
Previous articles and essays by Menachem Kuchar: