Bezem, Naftali

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BEZEM, NAFTALI (1924– ), Israeli painter. Born in Essen, Germany, the youngest son of a Polish-Jewish immigrant family, Bezem immigrated to Eretz-Israel with the assistance of *Youth Aliyah. His parents were murdered in Auschwitz. In 1943 Bezem began his studies at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem under the guidance of Mordecai *Ardon, whom he adopted as a father figure. Later Bezem himself became a teacher in the institute. In 1949 he traveled with his wife, Hannah Liberman, to Paris and studied at the Centre d'Art Sacre, a Catholic art school specializing in modern sacred art. Over the years Bezem had many one-man shows and produced a number of reliefs for public buildings, wall paintings, stained glass, and tapestries. In 1975 his eldest son was murdered in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem's Zion Square. Bezem divided his life between Israel and Switzerland.

Besem's art was much involved in the history of Israel. Some of his art works are located in official institutes of the State of Israel, such as the ceiling painting in the President's Residence in Jerusalem and the metal relief at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. In his symbolic style he integrated Jewish and Zionist contents with the formal requirements of these institutes.

During the years Bezem devised a symbolic language. The beheaded fish or the rooster were symbols of atonement and in the context of the Holocaust served as a symbol of the victim being sacrificed. Boats with oars were the means of transport by which he arrived to Israel; the forward motion symbolized progress with the boat a protective device. The lion was his characteristic symbol for Jewish objects and stones represented an old city on which a new city is built. The Sabbath candles symbolized the happiness of his childhood and the candles of his mother but also the light that went out when his son died.

For several years after the death of his son Isaac, Bezem, the mourning father, dedicated himself to the theme of Isaac's sacrifice (the *Akedah). In these paintings he created an analogy between the sacrifice of the father and sacrifice of the son, without a ram for redemption.


Z. Amishai-Maisels, Naftali Bezem (1986).

[Ronit Steinberg (2nd ed.)]