Incredible things happen when artistic expression and generosity of heart meet. Meet Iri Kaplan, the artist and expert ceramist who for years has been supporting NATAL through her dedicated art.

Working from a studio based in her Herzylia home, Iri creates unique pairs of ceramic birds from which all proceeds go in support of NATAL. As a symbol of the human spirit, and a representation of NATAL’s work, these birds can be found at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv, along with being sold and available internationally. This week, NATAL took the opportunity to sit down with Irit and talk about her connection to NATAL, her deep commitment to bettering society through art, and the making of her bird menorahs.

Q: So to begin, how did you first come to NATAL and how do you know Judith Yovel Recanati, the Founder of NATAL?
Iri: Judith is a friend of mine and also a neighbor. Our children grew up together and were in the Scouts movement together. We first met after she had finished studying art therapy, and soon after establishing NATAL, she invited me to one of the events. I began to regularly attend all of NATAL’s events, and over the years of our friendship, my understanding of NATAL’s world and its importance deepened, and naturally so did my desire to be involved.

Q: How did you get your start in ceramics? How did it all happen?
Iri: Years ago I worked in a bank as an investment consultant, working many long and difficult hours. After the birth of my youngest daughter, I wanted to make a change in order to be with my children. At the same time however, I wanted to find something that was more meaningful and fulfilling for me. I even went so far as to consult with others what I should do, and I was surprised by one of my friends who recommended pursuing art. I was surprised because in my opinion, I have two left hands and never thought I had it in me to create art. However following her suggestion, I decided to go one day to a ceramics lesson – and from then on the rest is history.

Q: What materials did you start with and what do you use today?
Iri: I started with clay as it is soft and easy to use. However I very quickly advanced to working with mesh (soft woven metal used to hold forms and shapes) and marble. The problem though is that everything I was doing with these materials was all very monotonous – there are no colors, and you can’t paint it. I’m a person who really gravitates to color – everything needs to be colorful – and so I returned to working with clay. For me, color connects me with feelings of happiness, and joy – it brings out feelings of internal fulfillment and life.

Q: Before you continue, I just want to point out how relevant what you just said is to how we use color at NATAL’s Running in Color event that just happened. Through the use of optimistic and positive colors, we “color in” the otherwise invisible symptoms of trauma.
Irit: It’s very true. And it’s for that same reason that using color put me on the path of creating pieces that were happy, engaging, or humorous in nature.

Q: How did you first become involved with NATAL?
Iri: I am very much a “people person”. I work with people, my work touches people, and generally speaking I feel like I connect well with others. And so beyond something that was artistically fulfilling, I was searching for something I could support or donate to. Becoming more involved with NATAL became important to me given all the wars in recent years – Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, and Protective Edge. There was at one point and endless amount of Katyusha rockets raining down, causing trauma in so many people. More than any other population, it deeply upsets me to see the trauma faced by children. For me that is the worst. I even spoke to Judith at this time and told her that anything I do to benefit NATAL, I want to go to helping children. So the question became, what can I do to help?

Q: And what did you decide?
Iri: We initially decided to have a gathering at our home in support of NATAL. However it was difficult, because we didn’t want people to feel pressured to donate thousands in order to attend and show their support. We wanted to make the event accessible to anyone. At this time I was already creating my birds – birds to me have always been a symbol of the human soul and I have used them as an ongoing spiritual motif throughout my whole life. NATAL’s purpose and mission is to take care of the soul, and so I had the idea to create pairs of birds to benefit NATAL. We decided that guests at the event would all purchase a pair of birds for 180nis, and those who wanted to donate more could donate more. At the end of the evening, every person chose the pair they wanted, and every person then would say that theirs was the most beautiful. Why? Because every person found the colors that speak to them, the conversations, shapes and forms that speak to them – they are all different. My birds are all singular and unique – just like people.

Q: How did that feel for you?
Iri: It felt amazing to involve others in this way of giving, and for them to walk away with a special memory of their donation. With their birds, they will always have a physical souvenir of their generosity and more so, will always remember the name of NATAL. And in addition to the donations that came from the birds themselves, we managed to raise a very respectable amount of 36,000nis to be donated to NATAL. It was an incredible evening filled with joy, giving back, and generosity of spirit. It was then that I knew that my path forward with NATAL would be continuing to donate my birds.

Q: That’s really great! Where can people find your birds?
Iri: My husband had the idea to present them to the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv. The museum has an excellent store manager, and I arranged for an agreement with them that for every pair of birds sold, they would take a small percentage, but all the rest would go directly and automatically to NATAL. I then approached the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The store manager there instantly connected to the story of the birds and similarly agreed to sell them as well. Last year, around this time, I had the idea to make “Hanukiot” with smaller birds. I had started a bit late in the season, however still I made several. They instantly sold out, and unfortunately I had to tell one of the store managers that I won’t be able to make more in time for the holiday (last year). So this year I am starting early, and again, like the pairs of birds that normally sell, the birds on the menorahs are also unique. You can see them sitting and talking to each other or others who are looking away at a distance – like people. In addition to my birds I am also working hard on creating an exhibition that focuses on my other collections of different characters that similarly reflect back and mirror the types of interactions you see in people.

Q. How many hours per week would you say you spend in creating all of your birds for NATAL?
Iri: I work a lot of hours on them – each one is individual. It really is a lot of work – but it comes in waves and stages. I send to every store, almost every month 20 pairs of birds – meaning, 40 individual birds, that are sent to each store. Every bird goes through a process. I make them from clay and they sit to dry, they then get fired in the kiln and when they come back, I paint them. A friend of mine, Ging Hershkovitz, helps me in the process of making the birds out of her ceramics studio in Rishpon. It all takes a long time as I never repeat the same bird – I don’t work with stencils or prepared designs.

Q. How do you see the connection between your birds and the work of NATAL?
Iri: For me, birds are very representative of the work that NATAL does with people. Why birds? I could have chosen to make a million other different things. There are so many different people seeking NATAL’s help, for so many different traumatic experiences, and the way I see it, is that NATAL helps people to rise up, to look above and beyond the here and the now. NATAL, in a way, gives people wings – wings of strength. We live in a country with a huge amount of trauma from terror and war – civilians, soldiers and children are all so deeply affected – and NATAL helps them to rise above it. Between the symbolism of the birds, and the work of NATAL, I feel like the birds represent several very important and connected themes all perfectly coming together.

Q: Incredible. Thank you so much for everything you do for NATAL and for how much you support us through your beautiful work. We really appreciate everything that you do!
Irit: For as long as I am able to make them and to donate, I am more than happy to do so. Thank you to NATAL for all of the invaluable work.

Irit’s birds are sold through the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv. International orders can be placed by contacting her directly through her website

This article was originally published in NATAL’s 2015 Hannukah newsletter