Introduction – The Complete Jessy Cohen Museum / Gal Leshem

The Homeroom Class exhibition is the product of a process of several months at the Center for Digital Art in Holon’s Jessy Cohen neighborhood. The process is part of The Complete Jessy Cohen Museum, which was established in 2016 by artists Effi & Amir together with a local team of neighborhood residents. The Museum staff chose to focus on the history of Weizmann Elementary School, which operated in the neighborhood from 1958 and was closed down in 2012, and today houses the Center for Digital Art. Together with the Museum staff and the project team, comprising graduates of the school, the project investigates the school’s local history by creating an archive of the memories of former students and teachers at the school over the years of its activity.

Homeroom Class, the product of a research process that included conversations, meetings, and interviews, functions as a local archive of the former school. The archive is spread out, spatial, and mapped in accordance with fundamental issues in the school’s history and the places referred to in the memories that have been collected. Processing the “findings” and spreading out the memories in the form of physical paths necessitates a process of archival organization: sorting and categorizing, giving names and captions, creating a chronology, arrangements and groups within which personal experience becomes a document-testimony in the historical database.

The illusion of neutrality attributed to an archive is challenged here by the multiplicity of voices. By its very nature an archive of memories runs counter to the historical demand for a uniform and linear narrative, and appropriates dichotomy and conflict as foundations for its existence. This is an archive that contradicts itself, that evades framing, that violates archival laws. Not relying on existing findings, the narratives revealed in it are based solely on the personal experience of the people remembering, without the possibility of confirming or refuting their veracity. The past exists in it only as a longing or scar of the person telling it.

Through the personal memories and their organization, the school system is revealed as a collection of details, as an autonomous space, and as part of a wider educational system. At the center of the research is the complex relationship between the various waves of immigration and the school as a site of initiation into Israeli culture. The exhibition examines the role of the school as an institution that creates belonging and local and national belongingness, and the intentional and unintentional practices employed by the school staff in shaping their students’ identity and future. At the same time, also emerging from the archive are the complex power relations between new and veteran immigrants, the dynamics between teachers, parents, and children, and the ethnic, cultural, and economic gaps with which the neighborhood school had to contend.

Homeroom Class is an attempt to do something and its opposite: to depict the educational framework in a way that only traces the subjective experience of the people participating in it. The articles in this compilation provide the theoretical framework absent in the exhibition due to the subjectivity of personal memory. The articles written by Nissim Mizrachi, Dalya Markovich, and Avner Ben Amos sketch a number of clear outlines of the education system in Israel pertaining to the ethnic-class-national issues emerging from the exhibition, and propose different perspectives that enable the location of Weizmann School in a wider historical and sociological context. The article by Effi & Amir proposes an observation of the direction indicated by the name “The Complete Jessy Cohen Museum”, and the museal action it seeks to create within the specific place in which it exists.