Negotiating peace

An exhibition at the Bloomfield Science Museum offers visitors a different way of thinking about coexistence, democracy and tolerance.

The quest for peace is never smooth, but at least here it's combined with a great deal of fun, says Marina Gershgorn, mother of 10-year-old twins Oscar and Daniel, who recently visited the Peace Labyrinth exhibit at the Bloomfield Science Museum with their school. Since the interactive exhibition opened its doors in October, it has been visited by 40 school groups from east and west Jerusalem. While education programs on coexistence, democracy and tolerance are nothing new, especially for Jerusalemites, the Peace Labyrinth exhibit offers visitors a different way of thinking about these issues. The exhibition's maze-like design is an hour-long exercise in decision-making. The search for the right path helps students learn first-hand about hasty decisions and their consequences, developing awareness of points of view and acquiring creative tools to deal with interpersonal conflicts. The exhibition is divided into four sections dealing with: the similar and different; observation and interpretation; conflict management; and communication. A tour of the exhibit begins with a brief introduction, after which students are split into groups and given a workbook to record their answers to the questions and assignments that come up as they make their way through the exhibit's 40 stations. As students wander through the labyrinth, they are greeted by strange words, unknown sounds, familiar, yet unrecognizable shapes and colorful buttons. Students are invited to compare finger prints, to listen to the sounds of a muezzin, a shofar blowing and church bells and, along the way, to learn about the other as well as themselves. On this particular day, a group of fifth-graders from the Evelina de Rothschild school is visiting the exhibit. Their instructor gives the cue and a group of excited girls spreads around the room, exploring the various stations, arguing with each other and discussing the possible answers to the questions posed. While comparing fingerprints, 10-year-old Hadas discovers that hers, and everyone's for that matter, are unique. Meanwhile, her classmate Orly is puzzled by one of the questions in their workbook: "Is going to school a privilege or an obligation?" And classmate Naomi shouts, "How should I know what it means? I don't speak Arabic," as she listens to instructions in Arabic, which follow the Hebrew version. The Peace Labyrinth exhibit takes after a model that was presented for the first time in Holland by the Peace Education Projects. According to Daniel Friedberg, one of the visionaries behind Israel's version of the exhibit, during a seminar in Cyprus Jerusalem Foundation vice president Alan Freeman was so impressed with the presentation of the Dutch project, he decided to bring it to Israel. Three years ago, Friedberg and his partner Rula Khoury traveled to Holland, were taken with the idea as well and began developing a vision for the exhibit that reflected Israel's and Jerusalem's unique dilemmas and issues. Their hard work came to fruition last year, when they secured the joint support of the Jerusalem Foundation, the Olive Stone Trust and the Bloomfield Science Museum. Adapting the Dutch model to local realities was no easy feat, however. "The Dutch model was by far more political than the Israeli one," recalls Friedberg. "They dealt with a lot of issues related to prejudice, interracial relations, immigration, etc. Obviously, in Jerusalem things had to be different, so we resorted to a much more subtle approach, focusing more on what kids in Jerusalem know about each other, than on political issues. Also, the labyrinth was our idea." The target audience for the exhibit are fifth- and sixth-graders. Over the course of two years, Friedberg and Khoury hope to bring as many of these children, from both east and west Jerusalem, to visit the exhibition. Friedberg says that Jerusalem's Arab schools are even more excited about the exhibit than the Jewish ones. "This tour costs virtually nothing, as we provide the transportation and don't charge entrance fees. Also, the Arab schools have fewer opportunities to arrange field trips, and there is a lot of eagerness to take part in this project," he explains. The exhibit may also travel outside Jerusalem. "We were paid visits by officials from the Palestinian Authority's Education Ministry. They have expressed an interest in the exhibition, and, although it's not official at this point, there might be an agreement in the future on transporting the exhibition or building a duplicate in Ramallah," says Friedberg. As the Evelina de Rothschild school's tour of the exhibit comes to an end, the class members meet to discuss their experiences. "I think that the point of this exhibition was to show us that although we are different, we have a lot in common. Also that it's important to pay attention to the substance and not to the shape of things," says Hadas. Her friend Tali says that she would definitely recommend the labyrinth to her friends. "It was fun, especially the part with the sounds, when you had to tell apart the sound of the shofar from church bells and the muezzin. Also [to compare and contrast] the portraits of women who cover their hair - a Jewish woman, a Muslim one and a Christian [a nun]." The exhibition will run in the Bloomfield Science Museum until October 2009 and is currently open only to groups. The possibility of opening the exhibit to individuals, however, is being discussed, says Friedberg.