empty stage 88.
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Striding across the lawn at the Thelma Yellin high school Monday afternoon, principal Haim Daitchman gazed across its modest campus with a visionary look in his eyes.
If Daitchman has his way, Israel's most prestigious high school for the performing arts will soon become a magnet for top international students. It is hoped that the bold plan will help transform the image of Israel from that of a conflict-torn country into a cosmopolitan hothouse for young artists.
The endeavor has already attracted the interest of a number of internationally-renowned artists and philanthropists, including French-Jewish filmmaker Roman Polansky and Beatrice Rosenberg de Rothschild.
"We want to make it into the Juilliard of the Middle East," said attorney Sharon Bialkovich, the school's director of development.
Thelma Yellin, which is located on a quiet side street in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim and attracts students from across the country, currently has 580 students. The expansion plan includes creating a program for foreign students and a student exchange program, as well as boosting the school's outreach to minority sectors within Israel.
The first step, according to Daitchman, will be the creation of an international summer school, which he hopes will begin operating in the summer of 2007. On-site dormitories and an international center for the arts are two main features of the architectural plan the school hopes to embark upon at a later stage.
While the school aims to reach out to an international student body that could include students from other Middle Eastern countries, Europe and North America, the immediate target audience is the international Jewish community.
"We want to give young people a different glimpse of what Israel is - to understand that there is more to it than volunteering on a kibbutz," Daitchman said.
Both he and Bialikovich hope that the school's plan for an international program will appeal to young Jews abroad, and could be a novel means of attracting potential new immigrants by exposing them to the country's rich contemporary arts scene.
"It's a new way to present Israel which extends beyond news about terror attacks," Daitchman said.
The school's reputation and personal connections abroad, he said, ensured that both local and international graduates of the school could pursue studies at prestigious institutions abroad.
The estimated cost of creating an international school and the series of related projects, according to Bialikovich, is approximately $30 million, of which $18m. would fund the new arts complex and dormitories and the remaining $12m. would be dedicated to ongoing activities. The school's directors are currently seeking donors to finance the plan.
Down the line, Bialikovich also hopes to foster the creation of a an inter-disciplinary "Center for Creativity."
The Ministry of Education has already expressed its enthusiastic support for the project. In a letter recently addressed to Daitchman, acting director-general of the ministry Amira Chaim commended the project and the possibilities it held as a form of outreach to young Jews abroad.
"In accepting students from different countries and different cultures," she wrote, the school could "open channels of communication between our country and young people worldwide."
Chaim expressed hope that the Foreign Ministry, the Jewish Agency and others would also support the school's projects.