Artist Rebuilds After Losing Life’s Work to Fire

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The story of artist Yoram Raanan beginning to paint again after losing 40 years of work to Arab terror arson is told in this film by Lubavitch filmmaker Bentzi Avtzon.

By COLlive reporter

One of the most provoking arguments Chassidus makes is that the deepest light not only overcomes darkness but transforms it. And that on the truly deepest levels light and darkness are not opposites because darkness itself is a source of the most intense light.

And while this argument appears to be more theoretical than practical, more mystical than tangible, there is a Jewish artist who experienced this idea firsthand and not only experienced it internally but visualized it on the canvas.

This artist, and his story about turning darkness into light, is told in a documentary film by Bentzi Avtzon, “The Light of Fire.”

The film tells the story of Yoram Raanan, an American-Israeli artist who begins painting again after losing 40 years of work in a sudden fire. The fire took place in Moshav Bet Meir, a picturesque community atop the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, during the spate of terrorist arson fires that gripped Israel in the fall of 2016, but the circumstances of how the fire began is almost beside the point. By the time the fire was brought under control, it had claimed Yoram’s studio, which housed hundreds of paintings and many other priceless artifacts.

Raanan’s tragedy was covered in many publications both within and outside of Israel. Something about a man losing not only his possessions but the fruit of his very personal labor, his life’s work, resonated around the world, often with people who hadn’t ever heard of Yoram before.

But it was no more than a couple months later that Yoram started painting again, at the time in a makeshift studio, and began sharing his new works online. For him to paint anything after such loss was impressive but what was truly remarkable was that his new paintings were very different than his paintings from before the fire. Where his old paintings had been full of color, his new paintings were less colorful, painted in earth and gray tones, often on a black canvas. These were colors of soil, wood, smoke, ash.

But against these colors of destruction there was also a striking gold, a color Yoram hadn’t used in his earlier paintings. And the gold was unbelievably intense, portraying a light that Yoram had never found in his earlier works. It was as if Yoram was being forced to look into darkness itself and find there, and only there, the deepest light and colors. To find in the ashes of destruction the bright light of fire.

“When I saw these new paintings,” Avtzon recalls, “something about them spoke very deeply to me. I felt like there was something very powerful, almost mystical, about his new work, and that it was universal, something that went beyond art. I reached out to Yoram, and a few months later I visited him together with an Israeli crew to spend a few days with him and his family and document his amazing story.”

The resulting film, The Light of Fire, which runs for 33 minutes, has been shown in over a dozen communities already, and is scheduled to be shown in a number of Chabad Houses and communities this Tisha b’Av.

“This film wasn’t made as a Tisha b’Av film,” Avtzon explains, “but its themes of rebuilding in the face of destruction, coupled with the story of artist guided by his faith, definitely make it an appropriate story for such a day.”

To screen this film in your community, contact: bentzi@yuvlamedia.com

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