Although they live thousands of miles away, the residents of Ma'alot-Tarshicha in the Galilee region of Israel are well-acquainted with the Apter and Barrer families of Greater Philadelphia.
Many local artists and art students in Israel's only Arab-Israeli joint municipality consider both families, who are long-standing donors to the Apter Barrer Arts Center, to be their "muses."
Recently, the center completed extensive renovations, and Helene and Allen Apter were in attendance at dedication ceremonies. The renovation and reconstruction project brought the facility into the 21st century. Included were major security and aesthetic upgrades, including attractive landscaping and design integration.
During the ceremonies, Shlomo Bohbot, mayor of Ma'alot-Tarshicha told the crowd that "our relationship with the donor families was forged in the 1980s as part of Project Renewal -- a partnership between the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Israeli government and the Diaspora -- to renew more than 100 development towns throughout Israel." He applauded the generosity of the Apter and Barrer families, as well as the many other families from Greater Philadelphia who have supported the arts in this community for nearly three decades.
Bohbot lauded the Apters as steadfast supporters of the arts in Israel.
"The family's leadership gift allowed the continued development and expansion of this unique arts center, which has quickly become a leading arthouse, and has greatly enhanced Ma'alot-Tarshicha's reputation as a creative and culturally influential city," he said.
Allen Apter, accompanied by center director Noga Migdal, cut the ribbon on the new and improved facility.
He said that he is simply "overwhelmed by the beauty and quality of the workmanship," and "excited by the prospect of more frequent artist exhibitions and the chance to offer more classes" in the significantly expanded facility.
"Terrific" is the word that Mitchell Barrer uses to comment on the appearance of the newly remodeled center, which he described as "a showcase for Arab, Israeli and Bedouin artists, and a place where community youth, adults and families can explore various forms of visual and performing arts."
Barrer and his brother, Steven, shared Apter's optimism that the remodeling will enhance the center's ability to better serve community residents.
Steven Barrer marveled at all the arts center has accomplished to "bring together Israeli Jews and Arabs who live side by side in Ma'alot-Tarshicha."
He is "gratified" that center programs, classes and exhibitions are "open to all residents in ... a place where everyone works and learns together, without concern for religion."
Barrer emphasized that the center "has helped unify the municipality and teach its inhabitants that co-existence is not only preferable, but possible."
For more info about the center, visit: www.artsmaalot.com  or call Andrea Adelman, 215-832-0810.