A New Life
Finally, in February of 1957, Ginzburg, his mother, his father and twin sisters, and Dora, made a long and agonizing journey to Israel. It was winter and the journey was rough. They first traveled to Western Europe where his father was asked to stay and work for the American Joint Distribution Committee. Itzhak was to persuade other migrating and escaping Jews to immigrate to Israel. Despite his fears of the unknown and tales of hard labor, Itzhak decided that he could no longer send people to their new homeland without going himself. Once again Itzhak gathered his family and few belongings and set out for EretzYisrael, the land of Israel.
Always on the move, Ginzburg did not know what was worse, the tormented life he had in Eastern Europe or this truly awful trek across two continents. His family was following a dream, a dream of choice and freedom, but would they find it? Was Israel the place? Would they find peace and happiness? Would they belong.
It was not an easy assimilation to the new land, the people or the culture. His first home was a few miles from the small town of Kfar Saba near Kalkilya, in close proximity to the Jordanian border. It was a tense area, constantly on alert against saboteurs and gangs.
Like many other European immigrants, the Ginzburg family relied on government assistance to begin their new life. The housing accommodation they received was a small one room apartment with very few amenities. Thefacilities were communal and the bathrooms were outside. Ginzburg"s father knew this was not the place for his family, but until they understood the language and found work, there was little hope of moving to a better place. By chance, Itzhak learned of a distant relative living in Tel-Aviv. He was a learned rabbi and Itzhak convinced him to take his son into his home. There, Ginzburg would be surrounded by people who knew the language and the Jewish customs, hopefully making his assimilation into the new culture an easier one.
The transition was anything but easy. Rabbi ShmuelZarski and his family lived strictly by the Jewish law and of course, Ginzburg did not know any of the customs. When Ginzburg moved to his relatives" home he went with the clothing on his back. After five days in the same clothes and the Sabbath approaching, Ginzburg took it upon himself to wash his clothes. Ashamed, he snuck into the bathroom, locked the door, and proceeded to clean himself. To his dismay the water only dripped from the faucet. He managed to soap and wash his underwear and socks, but he could not rinse them. He stood there naked not knowing what to do. Then he found in the bathtub behind him a full tub of clean water with pots and pans soaking in it. Quickly he grabbed a potfull of water to rinse his clothes in the sink. The pots banged against one another making a loud noise. Instantaneously he heard yelling and screaming outside the bathroom door. His relatives banged on the door demanding that he stop. The rabbi and his wife rushed in, loudly protesting his actions. Ginzburg stood there bewildered. What had he done? What were they saying? What was his crime? He had only wanted to clean himself.
As he learned later, the pots and pans were being prepared for Passover, a Jewish Holiday, and unknowingly he had contaminated them. To make matters even worse, the rabbi realized that Ginzburg was not circumcised (one of the most important laws of the Jewish religion). Ginzburg was a heretic. He was not a Jew, yet he claimed to be one. This sparked yet another identity crisis. As a young boy in Poland he was snubbed and persecuted for being Jewish. Now, in Israel, the Jewish People"s homeland, he was spurned for not being a Jew. Who was he? What was he? Ginzburg longed to know.
Trying to understand this new dilemma, he turned to his father for help. Yes, it was true, according to the laws of Judaism, he was not considered a Jew because his mother was not Jewish. The only way for Ginzburg to be a Jew in the eyes of the law was to make a full conversion to Judaism, but when he appeared before the Rabbinical court he was refused permission to convert. Ginzburg did not speak Hebrew nor did he know or understand any of the Jewish laws or customs. It was impossible for him to receive the blessings of the court.
Determined to belong, he and his father enlisted the help of a relative. Even though Ginzburg was not Jewish they admitted him secretly to Tachkemony, an Orthodox school in Tel-Aviv. There he was immersed in Jewish culture and indoctrinated with all the laws and customs of the Jewish faith. Before long, Ginzburg learned how to be a religious Jew and was ready to appeal his right to convert.
The court was like most courts, cold and ominous. Three pious rabbis sat behind a high bench and stared at Ginzburg with contemptuous and piercing eyes. They felt he was not a Jew nor should he be. Each in their own way tried to persuade the young boy that being a Jew was a burden and that he need not carry that burden upon his shoulders. One drilled him about the Jewish laws, another questioned him about the history of the Jewish People. Finally, the third rabbi asked him, "Why do you want to be a Jew?" Until this last question, Ginzburg"s answers to the rabbis were very calculated, based solely on academic knowledge. But why did he want to be a Jew? After a brief moment, he began to answer. The words escaped from his mouth before he could even think to stop them.
"I want to be a Jew because when I lived in Eastern Europe and told my friends that I was Jewish, they laughed at me and called me names. They said I was a dirty Jew. I do not want to make liars out of my friends." With that, the Rabbis turned to each other and in a synchronized fashion all three turned back to Ginzburg and nodded their heads in approval. In retrospect, Ginzburg felt the answer was too contrite and sarcastic, but the rabbis knew he carried the burden upon his shoulders. He deserved the right to be a Jew if he chose to be.
Having received the approval from the rabbis, Ginzburg needed to perform all the conversion ceremonies. This included circumcision, which, when performed on an adult requires a surgeon and not the traditional Mohel. It was not an easy task to find a doctor or hospital that would perform the surgery. The medical system in Israel at that time was socialized medicine which meant that non-emergency medical procedures could take months, even years to be performed. Ginzburg could not wait. In desperation, Ginzburg"s father found a small maternity hospital in Tel-Aviv that would perform the necessary surgery and ceremony.
For Ginzburg the experience was traumatic. The surgery and his recovery required complete secrecy. He was a young man in a hospital solely for women, mainly pregnant and nursing religious women. It would cause an uproar if people found out that he was a patient. So in utter secrecy he was admitted to the hospital. Fortunately, the procedure and ceremony were performed without incident. Although it was all quite unpleasant, Ginzburg felt a sense of relief. At last he knew who he was and that he belonged.
His conversion filled a void in his life, but his assimilation to the new culture continued to be painful and disconcerting. His dark childhood still haunted him. His new world of religion constrained him, and he had yet to master the nuances of the Hebrew language. Amongst his peers, he was still an outsider and he found it difficult to express himself. Ginzburg"s only comfort was in his solitude, especially when he put pen to paper and began to draw. A sense of freedom and power overcame him. He may not have been able to communicate with language but his art said it all. His gift emerged.
His talent was recognized and at the age of 14, after seven days of grueling tests, Ginzburg was admitted on a full scholarship to the prestigious Academy of Arts of the Museume of Bat-Yam. He was the youngest student ever admitted to the Academy. Once again, he was forced to change environments, this one the antithesis of Tachkemony, the religious school. His fellow students were already in their early twenties, most of them had even served their mandatory army service and now were ready to train for a professional life. His academic professors demanded he think and act like an adult, yet he was only a boy of 14, young and ever impressionable. It was a time to learn, to paint, to draw, to create. It was a time to become an artist. But what made a student of art an artist himself? Was it his ability to copy the world or was it the ability to express feelings no one else dared to?
Ginzburg tells a story of one of his most frightening days at the academy. "There is one day I will never forget. Our Professor, AriehMargoshelsky, asked the class to paint from within. He wanted us to paint our raw abstract feelings. We all sat there, a bit baffled. What did he really want? How could you paint your innermost feelings? Painting a tree or a human torso was easy, it was merely a copy of the world around us, but to paint our inner feelings, what was that? As I sat there, trying to come up with something, I began to look around. The other students were just as distressed. As the first brush strokes appeared on the canvases, I began to notice that all the students were copying each other. No one was in touch with their own individuality. We were unsure and unable to show ourselves.
"Upon the professor"s return to the class, he was livid and appalled by what he saw. He began to rant and rave that "This was not a way to get at your creative selves." He stormed out of the class only to return with a live, screaming rooster. He shouted, "I want feelings, now give me your feelings", and then proceeded inhumanely to pluck the rooster"s head off right in front of our very eyes, blood spurting everywhere. I was in shock, but my emotions flowed and flowed. In fact they would not stop. I went straight to the deepest part of my soul and brought it bubbling to the canvas. I often wonder about that day, why? I was only a young boy then, why did I have to experience such cruelty? Was it necessary?"
The story although gory in nature sheds some light on Ginzburg"s earliest works. His paintings are well developed, intense, but never complete. There always seems to be some despair, some tragic moment, a sense of loss and abnormality, yet at the same time there is hope and a sense that the world can be pieced back together again and that all will be good.
Ginzburg"s gift as an artist truly blossomed at the Academy. In 1962, the world famous Master Painter, Marc Chagall visited the Academy as a guest. He chatted with the students and examined their works. In the course of his visit, his eyes lit on two of Ginzburg"s works. "How old is this lad?" he asked the director of the Academy. When he was told that Ginzburg was the youngest pupil at the Academy, Chagall replied: "It took me 40 years to capture Paris. This youngster will capture the world even before his hair turns gray...."