Children of shalom
Israeli-Arab performing youth troupe to bring message of peace to Morristown
One hundred and twenty enthusiastic and talented teenagers presented excerpts from six original plays at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv last spring. Clearly enjoying the dramatic adventure and each other, the youngsters, from throughout the country, acted, sang, and danced on the stage, their exuberant performances conveying their delight in what they were doing and the fact that they were doing it together.
But what was really special about this entertaining mini-marathon, called Toward the Light in Tel-Aviv, is that these teens Arabs and Jews normally divided by societal, political, and religious gulfs represent what many dream will be the future of Israel.
The goal of the Yaldei Hashalom, Peace Child Israel, the organization presenting the plays, is to bridge the gap between Israels Arabs and Jews two populations living side by side with few meaningful connections.
Cofounded in 1988 by David Gordon and the late Yael Drouyannoff, an actress from the Habimah National Theater, Peace Child Israel seeks to teach coexistence using theater and the arts as tools to mend the cultural rifts through interaction and dialogue. The group educates for democratic values, tolerance, and mutual respect. Arab and Jewish teens work with counterparts from around the country to create original dramas about coexistence. The organization is committed to addressing cultural differences, minority-majority relations, and co-citizenship issues. Its goal is to promote better understanding and cooperation through the creative process: the discussing, writing, and then performing of original plays by groups of teens from neighboring schools but from vastly different backgrounds.
Solving the age-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the main goal of Peace Child; encouraging a more compassionate way of thinking is.
No attempt is made to convince one group or the other of its rightness or to try to change the others identity, said Melisse Lewine-Boskovich, managing director of Peace Child Israel, in an interview with NJJN. In fact, the opposite is encouraged: to understand, respect, and celebrate those identities. In the process, many points of similarity are discovered.
Popular in the communities where it is offered, Peace Child Israel draws many candidates, who must audition, putting their acting abilities on display, for one of the limited slots in the two-year program.
Those accepted into each local program are drawn from two schools in the same region. First, they engage in a four-day training seminar run by counselors and continue their dialogue in weekly meetings alternating between the Jewish school and the Arab school. During the seminar, the parents of the participants meet as well to discuss their feelings about their childrens participation in the project.
Two professionals, one Arab and one Jew, lead each integrated group of youngsters one with a background in theater and music, the other in social work and group dynamics. The latter expert faces enormous challenges as the young participants bring with them heavy baggage of mutual suspicion, fear, and misunderstanding of the basic values of the other group.
During the meetings, the participants discuss these basic dilemmas; at times, a psychologist is brought in who facilitates their willingness to look at issues from a different point of views. By reversing roles, an Arab youth speaks as an Israeli Jew who sees his very existence threatened, while a Jewish youth speaks as an Arab who has to contend with being a Palestinian in the Jewish state and witnessing Israeli soldiers actions against his population.
In time, the group begins to work on creating an original play with the help and guidance of the arts conselor. Their audience comprises their families, the student bodies of their respective schools, and the public at large.
The Peace Child Israel performances are a moving and inspiring theatrical experience, dramatically exhibiting the goodwill of the young participants and the cohesiveness of the groups ample evidence of their effectiveness in bringing the dream of its creators a step closer to fulfillment.
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