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Yael Gahnassia came to Jerusalem in 1982, having decided one fine day to leave behind her real estate business, her office on the Champs-Elys?es, and to start from scratch. To this day, she is a Parisian through and through, and yet at the same time she is utterly Israeli as well. This elegant blond woman welcomes all visitors with the kind of smile and style that one might expect to find in the art galleries of Paris's Faubourg Saint-Honoré, but with a warmth and a light in her eyes which have nothing to do with the superficial courtesy of Paris picture dealers.

For Yael, Mayanot is far more than a gallery. It is her raison d'être, and a genuine achievement. Yael ignored all the well-meaning advice she was given, the suggestions that she act cautiously and sensibly. Instead she sought out her own way of doing things, her own identity, as she launched herself blindly into a chancy adventure.

"Rather than starting out by buying an apartment, I took all of my savings and bought premises in King George Street. I knocked down walls, made a big display window, and with what was left over I bought three lithographs. Everybody thought I was completely mad," says Yael, smiling as she looks affectionately and proudly at the dozens of oil paintings that today adorn the walls of her gallery. From time to time she loans some of them to Israeli and overseas museums as examples of the diversity and vitality of Israeli art. This woman, who knew nothing about Israeli artists, discovered the light of Israel's landscapes through the artists of the Bezalel School, the first academy of Jewish and Israeli art, founded almost a century ago. Like others before her, she learned about the colors, the light, and the life which decades earlier had dazzled the artists who came from the cold, gray climes of Central Europe. She went back to her roots through Reuven Rubin, Ludwig Blum, Zeev Raban, Nahum Gutman and others.

"Mayanot means "wellsprings" or "sources" in Hebrew," explains Yael. She chose her gallery name intentionally. After coming to Jerusalem, she first went to another Mayanot, a center where Rabbi Léon Askénazi gave courses about Judaism. Through this inspiring man, known affectionately as "Manitou", she acquired the strength and learning which would bring her back to her Jewish sources." When nobody believed in my project, Manitou supported and encouraged me. He was the person who made me understand that one of the reasons why the Jewish people was exiled for two thousand years was in order to bring back to our regained country the culture that we had acquired in the Diaspora in order to build this country up and enrich it." This is the same vision that drove and inspired the first artists at the beginning of the 20th century who came to settle in Eretz Israel, a vision that Yael Gahnassia has in turn adopted when seeking out her own path.
This is a path that she has pursued through a combination of art and spirituality. "I have always looked for authenticity, sincerity, something that I found in the sages and in painters," explains Yael, who relates how, after re-establishing her ties with the Land of Israel through the Bezalel School's landscape artists, she got in touch with the spiritual dimension in other works: primarily that of Abel Pann, whose bible-inspired pictures inspired her in turn and led her to tackle an even more intrepid project that its predecessors: an edition of the Five Books of Moses with Pann's illustrations. "Together with my brother Jacques-Herv?, we managed to achieve the dream that Abel Pann didn't have time to bring to fruition," says Yael, remembering this challenge that she was the first to dare to tackle and that made her internationally famous, because she made absolutely no concessions when it came to maintaining the highest quality standards and remaining faithful to Jewish tradition.


It is with the same enthusiasm, which pays no heed to all the yardsticks of marketing and commercial profitability, that Yael Gahnassia today undertakes what she calls her contribution to building up the country, by encouraging today�s contemporary Israeli artists, whether immigrants like herself or locally born. One of these is Zvi Malnovitzer, who was born into an ultra-Orthodox community in Bnei Brak and today is considered one of Israel's leading artists. Through Malnovitzer's work, I discovered the last account of a vanished world, the world of the Gur Hassidim. And I 'a Sephardi who had never seen a shtreimel in my entire life' I had such a feeling, as if all these people, these faces, the light "as if all of this spoke directly to my Jewish soul," enthuses Yael Gahnassia, vividly recalling the enthusiasm that she felt when she saw the painter's first canvas. Yael, the Jewish woman from Algeria, the Parisian businesswoman who has become a real Israeli, adopted by Jerusalem, who has maintained her spontaneity and her intuition, who has been transformed into a happy woman who has returned to her roots, her wellsprings. The springs of Mayanot.



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