Lin Arison and Diana C. Stoll share their exploration of Israel in “The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel”

Monday Oct 10th, 2016

Blog > Lin Arison and Diana C. Stoll share their exploration of Israel in “The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel”

In a unique box set, Lin Arison and Diana C. Stoll share their experiences in Israel with the world and invite readers to explore Israel's fascinating, diverse, and complex culture. “The Desert and Cities Sing” celebrates world-renowned artists, educators, and innovators, and reveals the richness of a country many know only through front-page headlines.

On Tuesday October 18, 2016 join Lin Arison and Diana C. Stoll at the Performance Hall of the New World Center for a special launch event and book signing from 7-9 pm.

An Interview wiith Diana C. Stoll

What was your vision when you decided to create “The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel?”

The vision for “The Desert and the Cities Sing” was really Lin’s from the start, and it began during her marriage to Ted Arison, who was Israeli. In 2002 she published her beautiful memoir “A Love Story in Mediterranean Israel” —an intimate story about how she fell in love with the country after moving there with Ted in 1988. For some time, Lin had been considering re-issuing that book—which was, by the way, her first collaboration with Neil Folberg. And she asked if I’d be interested in helping her to make that happen. (Lin is a delight to work with, so of course the answer was yes!)

As we considered the project, we began to think about updating it—so very much had happened in Israel since its first publication in 2002. We brought in our friend Michelle Dunn Marsh, who is a great art director with whom Lin and I have worked before. And after much thought, we realized that in fact maybe what we wanted to make was an entirely new book, focusing on something many Americans don’t see much of, which is the Israel beyond the usual headlines: a place of great innovation and creativity, and—perhaps the biggest surprise to many—pockets of peace and collaborative enterprise.

At the time, Lin was also working with the filmmakers Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman on the film “Strangers No More,” about an extraordinary school in Tel Aviv called Bialik Rogozin, where kids from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities are growing up together, loving one another. It was a surprise to a lot of people that something like that was happening in Israel. The film went on to win an Academy Award—so obviously this message was resonating widely.

So Lin and I got to work on our new project, and made several research trips to Israel. At first our project was meant to fit between two covers, like an ordinary book. But it grew. And it grew. And continued to grow! At times it seemed like a great octopus—how are we going to make sense of all this? Thank goodness we had Michelle to help us. She introduced the idea of producing something other than a book . . . something more like a suitcase, or (as we like to call it) a treasure box, and filling it with a multitude of things that you can watch, read, smell, play with, wear, gaze at, understand. A full sensory experience. And we ended up here. “The Desert and the Cities Sing” is kind of a voyage in itself: readers may take any route they choose through it, and everyone’s experience of it will be unique.

How did you connect with Lin Arison and photographer Neil Folberg?

I have been a writer and book- and magazine-editor for many years. I knew Neil from the world of photography publishing. It was Neil who introduced me to Lin, when she was looking for an editor for her 2007 book “Travels with Van Gogh and the Impressionists,” which includes Neil’s photos. As I worked with Lin on that book, we realized we had many common interests—including music and the Italian region of Umbria, which were the subjects of Lin’s next book, “Feast for the Senses,” published in 2010. And we ended up writing that book together.

Most importantly, Lin and I really hit it off and had a great time traveling and working together and with Neil. Collaborating with Lin has been one of the great adventures of my life. She brings magic and wonder to everything she touches—it’s really been an honor and a joy to work so closely with her.

Can you share one of the most profound, joyful or unexpected experiences you had while creating this exploration of Israel and its fascinating culture?

For me, Israel itself was a new and unexpected experience. Unlike Lin, who lived in Israel for more than ten years with Ted and who knows the country very well, I had never traveled there before I worked on this project and I was frankly somewhat skeptical about what I would encounter in Israel. It is a hugely complicated place, as we all know, and not all of it is rosy. But there is so much more to it than its politics and the conflicts we hear so much about.
It has been a privilege to get to know Israel through Lin’s extraordinary lens. It has been a “crash course” for me, to be sure. But I think sometimes a newcomer’s eye can bring a modicum of freshness to the vision of a place. I hope that’s the case here.

As far as specific experiences . . . sitting at a small table at the mouth of a cave at the Har Eitan goat farm, overlooking the nearby green valley, biting into a beautiful, crumbly aged goat cheese. Interviewing an Arab Nano scientist at the Technion who tells us he believes it’s possible to make a new model of success for Jews and Arabs in Israel. Seeing red strawberries growing in a greenhouse in the Negev Desert. Visiting a community of Bedouins who are building a new and sustainable life for themselves. Telling a young waiter at a restaurant in the Jerusalem hills about the project we are doing—a project about the many good things happening in Israel—and he thanks us and apologizes because he has tears in his eyes. Seriously.

Every day in Israel brought something wonderful, and wondrous.

What are some of the main topics the books, films, and photography explore?

It’s a complicated project, including 4 books, 4 DVDs, a portfolio of photographs, and more.

There are loosely four main topics, each of which is approached in multiple ways:

  • Israel’s extraordinary work in agriculture/viticulture is the subject of Lin’s book “Solutions from the Land” and the DVD of the same title.
  • We talk about contemporary creators working in Israel in another book, “Arts and Design,” and in the DVD “Out in the World.”
  • “Tales of Innovation and Enterprise” includes conversations with some of the remarkable people helping the country move forward, in the realms of high tech, medicine, education, industry (from international business to a family-run olive-oil manufacturer), and humanitarian aid.
  • We discuss the deliciousness of Israel in the book “Eat, Sleep, Play” and the DVD “The New Cuisine of Israel.”
Simon + Goodman’s film “Strangers No More” is in our treasure box too. And there is a powerful portfolio of photographs by Neil Folberg, showing the amazing landscapes of Israel. Also packed in the box is a scarf, designed for us by Israeli design firm Frau Blau—something tangible and lovely for everyone to enjoy! For younger audiences, our animation “The Innovations of Israel” is a fantastic way of showing some of the great things the country is doing—in a very fun way.
Again, we wanted to provide a kind of holistic experience for our audience: lots of things to touch and think about.

Why “The Desert and the Cities Sing?” What is the title’s significance and how did Israel’s music shape your experience?

OK, we’ve been waiting for someone to ask about the title! “The Desert and the Cities Sing” is frankly not about religion, but the title comes from the Bible (Isaiah 42:11 to be exact). When we were thinking up titles, Lin and I loved the rhythm and the conviction of it—and it seemed right, for a project about Israel, to use words that had been distilled over millennia. It still seems right: joyful and celebratory.

We had many remarkable musical experiences in Israel—from hearing Michael Tilson Thomas conduct Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 with the Israel Philharmonic, to dancing in a nightclub to the live music of the band Yemen Blues, to hearing the children of the Bialik Rogozin school in Tel Aviv practicing a song in class, clapping happily along. We also became aware of several musical groups that bring together Jewish and Arab musicians—including Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; also Heartbeat: The Israeli-Palestinian Youth Music Movement; and a group called Polyphony, based in Nazareth.

There’s a kind of bumper-sticker wisdom you see sometimes both in the U.S. and in Israel: “Peace Through music.” Who knows, maybe it’s possible. Obviously, for people to play music together requires something so basic: listening to one another, working together toward a common—transcendent—goal. That seems like a great place to start in moving toward peace.