“I love walking around this place. There’s all sorts of people with crazy talent. You never know who you will meet,” Daniel Nahmias says as we follow him through the Old City of Jerusalem in the midday heat. It is our first day in Israel, and even though some of us have begun to tire with the weather, Nahmias has a sprightly spirit that makes us pick up our pace. It’s the same spirit we will later come to associate with his work. He leads us with childlike excitement through the alleyways and stone streets, through one turn and then another, through quarters unexplored by even the Jerusalemites themselves.
We turn a corner filled with colorful rugs and emerge onto a wide alley with skylight, shuttered storefronts, and men sitting on the ground. Dan wanders into a shop filled with metal goblets and lamps. “Here,” he says as he emerges, “I’d like you to meet Muhammed!”
Muhammed abdalghani abed aljawad is an metal craftsman that Dan came across on one of his saunters around the flea market in the Old City. He does what Dan calls “soft metal processing,” which includes soldering and cutting metal by hand.
While many a passer-by may walk through this street unaware, Dan immediately recognized Muhammed’s exceptional skill with metal. So when Dan got the idea to pair artisans with young designers in a bid to promote heritage crafts, he encouraged Muhammed to work with Galia Sasson, a multi-disciplinary designer and Holon graduate.
Together, they came up with a series of tables and lights:
These objects, which combine manual and laser cutting, eventually made it to Jerusalem Design Week as part of Dan’s “Matchmaker” collection.
Dan said, “We compared the designs cut by a machine with those cut by Muhammed, and Muhammed’s is just so straight, so precise.”
After meeting Muhammed that afternoon in the Old City, Dan leads us down Via Dolorosa, a storied street where Jesus was said to make his final walk to Cavalry for his crucifixion, to the Blind Arab Association workshop located there.
This is also the birthplace of Dan’s project between the Blind Arab Association Workshop and Bar Horowitz. On first glance, the place is a storefront that sells brushes and brooms, but Dan leads us through a back door to a large courtyard and a factory building so we can learn how the men work.
The designer, Bar Horowitz, had spent weeks here as well, watching these men in order to learn about their unique method of working with their hands, and how they rely on an established, ritual order of actions to make their products.
For the “Matchmaker” collection, Bar and her collaborators: Aziz, Taher, Samir, Achmad, Abu Samir, and Abu Ballal, wanted to make a product that can be used at home, and enjoyed both by people who can see and people who cannot. Their end product is a scented home object called “Fawah” that distills fragrant smells through the room.
When we visited Dan’s “Matchmaker” exhibition at Hansen House the next day, we also saw lamps at half mast that mourn the demise of reading; woven basket totes designed with twisted palm fronds and 3D printed embellishments; and gothic-styled bags made by a traditional violin maker and a fashion graduate duo.
Amir Zobel, the designer who worked with traditional engraver Eitan Goren on the atrophied lamps, summed up his Matchmaker experience: “I admire the wisdom he (Eitan) acquired with his own hands over many years of sometimes hard and Sisyphean work. I saw this as an opportunity to contact a world that was not completely foreign to me, but that I haven’t sufficiently experienced as a creative artist – before it is all replaced by smart machines and computers.”
Towards the end of the afternoon, after touring the rest of the exhibitions at Jerusalem Design Week, I’m sitting by the entrance of Hansen House and chatting with the curators Tal Erez and Anat Safran. From here, they spot Daniel Nahmias popping out of Hansen house and walking towards us. “He’s amazing,” Anat Safran says to me as she beams with pride. “We are so happy this was a part of our exhibition. He really brought it together.”
In case you missed it, we featured the Matchmaker story as a highlight on our Instagram page under “Jerusalem Design Week.” Our visit to Israel was organized by Vibe Israel, a non-profit foundation that supports education and culture.