In 1903 Schatz suddenly began producing a series of reliefs on subjects taken from Jewish daily life in Eastern Europe. This burst of creativity dedicated to Jewish themes was most likely brought on by the traumatic attack on the Jews of Kishinev in the same year. The Kishinev pogrom was one of the turning points in Zionist history; for Boris Schatz, it led to an emotional and artistic transformation. Scene after scene, Schatz's poignant depictions of Jewish existence can be seen as a kind of salvage operation, an attempt to rescue cultural and communal memory and preserve a vanishing world, now threatened with violent destruction.

In 1905 Schatz moved to Berlin, the seat of the Zionist leadership after the death of Herzl, with the intention of promoting the cause of the Bezalel art school. He stayed with Herzl's close friend, the illustrator Ephraim Moses Lilien. Lilien introduced Schatz to Dr. Franz Oppenheimer, a Zionist activist who, in turn, introduced him to Otto Warburg, later president of the World Zionist Organization.
 

Oppenheimer and Warburg took up the idea of an art school in Jerusalem with great enthusiasm, and, together with Schatz, met with Jewish leaders, philanthropists, and artists, and managed to create a coalition of the various organizations that might help to establish the institution Schatz envisioned. The Bezalel idea began to gain ground.

In 1905, the Bezalel School was the most significant cultural initiative undertaken by the Zionist movement. The way in which the School's trustees understood the project and its goals was influenced by the prevalent Zionist conception of the Middle East at the turn of the century: a region of great promise, soon to be inundated with thousands of tourists and pilgrims who would bring money into the country and buy up large quantities of souvenirs and religious objects. The trustees expected the study of crafts to provide work for members of the pre-Zionist Jewish community living in Palestine under Ottoman rule. Thus a new generation of active, productive Jews would replace a part of the people that had grown accustomed to living off charity.

 


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