Bezalel Grants Artist Diploma, 70 Years Late

Eli Ashkenazi


Feb 25, 2013

One of the illustrations in the Scroll of Eshter created by Bracha Avigad-Gutmann.

In 1941, Bracha Avigad-Gutmann was a student of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and was preparing her graduation project. Avigad-Gutmann, today 94 years old and living in Kiryat Tivon wanted to create a combination of graphic arts and writing and hit upon a handmade Scroll of Esther as the ideal endeavor. She would create it in traditional tribal style, and illustrate it.

The project was, in many ways, an homage to her great-grandfather, a traditional scribe. But while the writing style was pulled from the past, Avigad-Gutmann kept the illustrations looking forward, with modern, avant-garde style. At the time there were, of course, ill winds blowing across Europe, which Avigad-Gutmann took heed of, drawing Haman as a contemporary German soldier who resembled Hitler. In one painting, showing the feet of a hanged Haman, Avigad-Gutmann's husband Meir can be seen amidst the cheering crowd.

The final product caused a stir, and the academy wanted to hang on to it. "I was told to leave the scroll at Bezalel, but I couldn't part with it," says Avigad-Gutmann. "I was warned that I wouldn't receive my diploma and I said it was all right, the diploma wasn't all that important to me anyway. I kept the scroll and that was it. The fact that I didn't get a diploma didn't affect my life."

Already in 1941, Avigad-Gutmann had learned to stick up for herself. In 1935, she was among the thousands of young people brought from Germany by Henrietta Szold in the Youth Aliyah movement. Together with fellow rescued children and teens, she helped build Kibbutz Hulata in northern Israel.

However, the Scroll of Esther that kept her from her diploma remained tucked away in a cabinet in her home. No one outside of her family was even aware of its existence.

Several years ago, Avigad-Gutmann told her friend Mira Reuter, a member of the Jewish Renewal congregation Nigun Halev in the Jordan Valley, about the scroll. Two years ago on Purim, she was asked to bring the scroll for a reading of the Book of Esther, the Purim story, to the congregation. She did so, and in presenting the artwork also told the congregants of how the scroll had kept her from earning her diploma at Bezalel. Those in the audience decided to do something about it.