University of Winchester

ABSTRACTS /Shoshana Sitton and Malka Ben-Peshat

Cultural Encounters Through Artifacts of Faith and Religion: Representations of Faith and Religion as Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station

In this lecture we will discuss the ways artifacts and visual representations of faith and religion reflect and create cross-cultural encounters in Israel. These artifacts and visual representations are found in great quantities among other cheap and popular goods in the central bus-station in Tel-Aviv, located in a large three-storey mall. Since its opening in 1992 the mall has become a popular meeting place for low-income working people and commuters representing diverse cultural groups: Israeli-born Jews and immigrants of various ethnicities; Christians, Muslims, Druze and temporary Asian workers.

Our research revealed a multitude of artifacts, images and symbols, including ritual objects, stickers and icons related to different faiths and religions; objects of mysticism and magic, Jewish, Christian, Asian and New-Age visual representations, displayed side-by-side and sometimes together on one stand. They transmit messages of different types: esthetic, mystic, magical, moral, missionary and national (Jewish/Israeli). They are found throughout the mall and concentrated in various focal points such as synagogues, fortune-tellers’ stands, Habad stands (an ultra-orthodox Jewish stream whose members persuade Jewish males who pass by to perform a ritual prayer), in restaurants and in commercial stores and stands where they are displayed for sale and for the sellers’ personal use. The cross-cultural encounters in the station-mall created through these representations are complex. They bring together cultural elements from the west (North America and Russia) and the East (the Middle East and Southeast Asia) and also reflect the transformations that these so-called authentic sources have undergone in a global world.

We will discuss the characteristics of these representations and their iconographic sources; and relate to them in the context of the social and cultural ecology specific to the station-mall. We will examine their messages, their functions and how they enable encounters between groups, cultures, religions and faiths; to what extent these encounters are tolerant, and how they interact when the representations serve different groups for different ends. Do these interactions represent cultural and social relations only in the station-mall or do they reflect a more general developing cultural process within contemporary Israel.

Biographical Statements

Dr. Malka Ben-Peshat is a senior lecturer in the Design Arts Department Teachers College of Technology in Tel-Aviv. She has a background in Byzantine art and architecture and was a Fulbright Scholar at the UCLA art and design department. In 1994 she was the initiator and a founding member of the Middle East Design Forum for dialogue and cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian architects and designers. In 1996 she was the founding chair of the Design Arts Department and led the building of its B.Ed. curriculum. At present she is the head of a M.Ed. program on "Visual Literacy in Education".

She currently teaches in the areas of history and theory of Design, on design and cultural identity, exchanges between design, art and architecture. She has written a text book for high school students and many curricula for high school level in the history of design, art and architecture. She has written articles on design as material culture, sustainable design, and design education in Israel.

Dr. Shoshana Sitton is a senior lecturer at the Levinsky College of Education and at Tel-Aviv University at the School of Cultural Studies. Dr. Shoshana Sitton is one of Israel's foremost authorities on the History of Jewish Education. After receiving her degrees in General and Jewish History at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Dr. Sitton recieved her M.A. at Tel Aviv University in Educational History and Philosophy. She then went on to write her thesis on "Education in the Spirit of the Homeland"(1995). She is author of Education in the Spirit of the Homeland: The Curriculum of the Teachers Council for the Keren Kayemet (JNF). (Tel Aviv University, 1998 [in Hebrew]). She is also the co-author of Staging and Stagers in Modern Jewish Palestine: The Creation of Festive Lore in a New Culture, 1882-1948 (Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2004). She has written numerous articles on Jewish Education and on the invention of festivals and ceremonies in the history of Hebrew culture. At the present she is leading a reasearch project into the History of the Jewish kindergarten.

At present, Dr. Malka Ben-Peshat and Dr. Shoshana Sitton are conducting a research project into the Popular Culture in Israel as represented in the Central Bus Station in Tel-Aviv.


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