When you think of Israel, bonsai is probably the last thing that comes to mind. You might think of religious sites, the regional conflict, or even camels (or so I’m told) – but bonsai? Not on the list! But the fact is, that over the past few years, a thriving bonsai community has developed in Israel, and the country is quickly being recognized as an emerging country in the bonsai world.
The story of Israeli bonsai actually begins in the 1960s, when the two founding fathers of Israeli bonsai – Haim Shir and Refael Shemi, two enthusiasts from South Africa, who brought with them their love for the art. In that respect, Israeli bonsai can actually be considered an off-shoot of South African bonsai.
For years, the two worked alone, until slowly but surely the first group of Israeli bonsai enthusiasts began to form around them. It was not long before the group reached a critical mass, and in 1991 the Israel Bonsai Club was born. In 2004, the Club began inviting major artists from Europe for demos and workshops, and the seeds of the country’s big bonsai revolution were sown. The ties that were established with the wider global bonsai community, and the exposure to modern bonsai techniques and aesthetics would change Israeli bonsai forever.
In 2009, as the number and level of practitioners grew, it became necessary to offer the local bonsai community more options, and so the Israel Bonsai Society was established as a separate group from the Club. It was also in those years that the first truly modern bonsai studio and nursery was opened by Moshe Emergui.
Since then, things have been happening pretty fast (which is not usually the case in bonsai!). More and more people are getting into bonsai; the quality of both the raw material and the designs is improving tremendously every year; and numerous studios and schools have opened up around the country. All these have led to the emergence of an eager new generation of enthusiasts, born directly into modern bonsai.
A visiting artist once mentioned how far Israeli bonsai has come in such a short time. If you ask me – we’re just getting started!