It can be nice to see the fruits of your labors displayed for all to admire. In the case of the poster parade currently lining one side of Emek Refaim Street, with a handful of additional posters strategically situated downtown on Ben-Yehuda Street, there’s some educational benefit to be had, too.
Should you find yourself in the German Colony or in the city center, you might want to elevate your line of vision and take in the upper regions of some of the lampposts. You could then spend an enjoyable few moments perusing lines written by fifth to ninth graders from schools across the region and from all socioeconomic, ethnic and religious sectors.
The works in question, all in English, are taken from poems devised by children who attend schools in Jerusalem and its environs, with the most remote contributions coming from the Alonim Elementary School in Modi’in and Ulpanat Kiryat Arba.
The works started out as entries to a creative writing competition that formed part of the festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. The children wrote poems on the topic of “My Jerusalem,” following an initiative of the English Inspectorate of Manhi – Jerusalem Education Administration. Children from all sectors were invited to submit stories, poems, travel brochures, newspapers, Power- Point presentations and other creative works. The entries were examined by a panel of judges, with modest prizes awarded to the winning schools.
The whole shebang was coordinated by New York born Nehama Edinger, who made aliya 18 years ago. She kept the contest ship on course over the months as pupils set pen to paper and hands to keyboard, with some opting for video-based efforts. Edinger has been an English teacher in Jerusalem for the past 17 years, so she has more than an average idea of the machinations behind such a project.
“I was asked by Pat Talshir, Inspector of English of the District of Jerusalem and the Manhi region, to head this,” Edinger explains. “We asked teachers to have their kids write about Jerusalem to celebrate 50 years of unification.”
Edinger and the panel of judges had their work cut out when the results came in.
“We got around 280 pieces of writing,” she says, adding that it wasn’t always about solo creation. “Some were done jointly, some by a few children together and some by a whole class.”
The latter sounds perfect for a project with the spirit of togetherness at its core.
“There are many nice things about this,” Edinger continues. “Teachers were asked to give lessons that would encourage their students to write about Jerusalem. Then the teachers and the English coordinators had to choose up to three pieces to send in to the competition.”
Judging by the banners on Emek Refaim Street, all concerned did a good job.
The subject matter, within the broad boundaries of the Jerusalem theme, is fascinatingly varied. Some express homey vibes, while others convey the intimacy of a particular neighborhood of the city. Take, for example, a verbal delight from Ellah Friedberg, a ninth grader at Midreshet Hartman for Girls in Jerusalem. Her offering paints a succinct picture of the area of the shuk as the Lord’s Rest Day approaches:
“It’s 2 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. I walk through the long and untidy streets of Mahaneh Yehuda market. A restaurant is preparing to close. Nearby an old man shouts, ‘Good Shabbos! Good Shabbos!’ A holy city is preparing for a holy day.”
Anyone who has experienced the gradual palpable energy slide into Shabbat here will get the vibe of young Ms. Friedberg’s ditty.
Then there are the practicalities of getting around the capital, as noted by Adeley Benshtein, a ninth grader at Ort Minkoff, in Jerusalem: “So much depends upon a big green bus. Going up and down, riding on the hills. To the city made of gold.” Everyday logistics and just a hint of the Jerusalem mystique make for a highly evocative cocktail.
“My Jerusalem” was, explains Edinger, very much about getting everybody on board.
“The teachers were asked to have their students do this work and then display them in the schools – so that we could have English in the hallways, English in the classrooms, and they were asked to make a bulletin board. We asked them to send in a photograph of their bulletin board, or display, and the students’ work that they’re submitting.”
While only excerpts of winning entries made it to the thoroughfare banners, a website was established – www.myjerusalemwritingcompetition.com – with all the poems, prose works, travel brochure material and video work.
“The idea was that, in the end, we would have a website with everybody’s writing and to celebrate that,” Edinger says. “That way it wouldn’t be just about winners, it would be about everyone.” Website access is also provided by scanning the banners with a cellphone QR Reader.
Edinger says the bottom line is to boost levels of English at schools across the region. To that end the contest may resurface a few years down the line, but in the meanwhile, there are several other irons in the English education fire.
“The idea is to encourage kids to use their English. Often there’s a spelling bee for eighth graders. This year there was no spelling bee; instead we have this writing competition and we got many more kids involved.”
Some of the successful senior entrants were rewarded for their efforts by an inspiring session at an inspiring venue. One of the five competition judges, Dr. Ilana Blumberg, a senior lecturer in English creative writing at Bar-Ilan University, was recruited to give a workshop the topic to kids in grades 7 to 9, at the National Library.
“It was a lovely setting. It was a small group on poetry and prose.
It was intimate. Ilana gave them assignments and they worked together and read their work together. It was a way to take kids who showed promise and give them another boost up [with their English studies].”
The spread of ideas and the way the pupils conveyed their thoughts and feelings about Jerusalem take in deep emotions, religious stances, general observations, wistful thoughts and even humor. One work by seventh grader Rachel Eskin from Tehilla – Evelina De Rothschild School in Jerusalem, has her readers on tenterhooks as they scan the lines of her Jerusalem Life poem. The works begins, “Sounds of screaming, sounds of fight is what happens on dark nights.” Just when you begin to think that Ms. Eskin is offering us an appraisal of Middle Eastern violence, we discover that “when the sun rises there are no more cries, for cats are cats, noble and wise.” What a relief!
Besides giving the kids’ English proficiency a shot in the arm, Edinger feels the project helped to generate a sense of unity between some of the children, as befitting the historical event the project was designed to mark. “The kids who went to the workshop [at the National Library] came from different sectors. They sat around the table – kids from Abu Ghosh, Tzur Hadassah, Jerusalem and all the different schools.
They sat together and worked on their writing together. It didn’t matter who they were and where they came from.
“They only focused on their writing. That is the most natural way to interact.”