Cultivating understanding

Galilee Arab-Jewish schools inspire US artists.

regba 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
regba 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Art transcends languages, cultures and even oceans, a group of American artists proved recently when they served as “artists in residence” in the Western Galilee.
The artists came on a program organized by the Jewish Agency’s Partnership with Israel, which has bonded the Western Galilee with a consortium of 15 American cities in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio and Texas.
RELATED:Partnership also sends Israeli artists to US
Like other affiliations between Israeli and American communities, the partnership aims to promote mutually beneficial endeavors, forging relationships through programs that build Jewish identity and strengthen connections. But while other partnerships mainly focus on student exchanges and business networking, the Western Galilee-Central Area Consortium Partnership is the only one that also features exchanges of artists.
“We use art as a vehicle to connect people,” said Kim Goldberg, the American chair of the partnership’s arts task force. “The fact that our partnership does this program is really an expression of who we are. The Western Galilee has so much art here. Everywhere I go, I feel creativity, which opens people up, so it is very effective in connecting people and overcoming the language barrier.”
Goldberg, who resides in Omaha, is one of seven artists who came for the week-long residency. The task force also facilitates a performing arts series that brings top artists from the Western Galilee to the US to perform, and a special project each year to try out innovative ideas.
The other six artists in residence were Daniel Christiansen of Omaha, Bonnie Cohen and Janice Woll of Akron, and Jane Petitjean, Sharon Frankel and Prof. Dena Eber of Toledo.
Cohen and Woll worked at artist Dalit Ben-Shalom’s studio in Yehiam, which is called Mosaica. The three artists worked on a mosaic for the wall at the entrance to the Jewish community center of the Mateh Asher Regional Council that was a labor of love of students in Akron and Israel.
First Cohen and Woll designed the mosaic with 25 Jewish eighth graders in Akron, who brought it here in their suitcases on a class trip.
Students from the school in Moshav Regba added to the project with help from Cohen and Woll. A special addition was made by Frankel and her counterpart, Stephanie Egozy, who are glass art specialists, at Egozy’s studio in Shavei Zion.
The theme of the mosaic was “Planting for Peace,” which is symbolic of the growing relationship among the Americans and Israelis involved. It included messages hoping for peace in English and Hebrew from the students on both sides of the ocean.
“We are so glad the partnership paired us with Dalit,” Cohen said.
“The kids have been so polite and hard working. The experience on this program has been beyond all our expectations.”
Besides the mosaic, Woll worked on a quilt with the same “Planting for Peace” theme in Akron and with local children at the Fence Festival of Kibbutz Gesher Haziv. The quilt features pictures of the children working on it that were printed on fabric and added to the quilt. Kids from both countries put messages on the leaves.
“I wish there will be peace in the world and everyone will play music together with their friends and everyone will live together in a happy and beautiful world,” one students wrote.
Eber, who heads the Digital Arts Department at Bowling Green State University, worked with students at Western Galilee Regional College.
Christiansen made paper cuts with Jewish themes at the Hatomer and Shazar schools in Acre.
Frankel said she normally worked on her art solo in a workshop in a basement in her Toledo home, so she appreciated the social interaction the program provided.
“It has been an exciting experience working together with artists from Israel and Akron,” she said.
PETITJEAN HAD a similarly inspiring time as a VIP guest teacher at the Acre Arts Center for Kindergarteners, which teaches art and art appreciation to more than 1,000 Jewish and Arab three to six year olds from 35 separate and mixed kindergartens in Acre. She helped several groups of 30 children draw self-portraits and decorate pet rocks and then explain their art to each other.
“I showed them my artwork on my laptop, and they asked me questions about my art and my family in the United States,” she said. “The children understood my art in a way adults in the US don’t. This is a very special place for these kids to come.
I have had a blast.”
When each group concluded its experience with Petitjean, the children gave her presents and sang her songs about Israel and peace, which made her cry.
The arts center is purposely located in the heart of a mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood. Director Orly Shay said that art teaches tolerance and respect for your surroundings and your peers. She said that working with an American artist was a great opportunity for the students.
“Jane gave us a special experience,” Shay said. “I respect everyone who comes and wants to give. I told the kids she paid to come here on her own, give her time and volunteer.
The kids were so happy to connect to Jews in America.”
Petitjean said her viewpoint on Jewish-Arab interaction as well as that of the other artists on the trip had changed dramatically from their experiences. She said that while she had previously seen the issue in black and white terms, she now saw shades of gray.
“We saw a paradigm shift in our thinking,” she said. “Seeing the students interact gives us a different understanding of what Israel really is. We will share our experiences with our communities and enlighten people about how vital these programs are for Israel and the world as a whole. This is where the seeds of peace are planted. I have learned so much more from the students than they have from me. I will take these kids home with me and hold them in my heart forever.”