Comics project aims to bridge gap between secular, religious

Three thousand elementary school pupils participated in the project this year.

comics 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
comics 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"Let's have a party," one kid says to his friends in a new comic strip created by elementary school children. "How about hamburgers?" another suggests. A religious kid wearing a kippa is shown thinking, "But maybe they aren't kosher." "I don't think I'll be hungry that evening," the religious kid says to his friends. But then he pauses and thinks, "Maybe I should tell them the truth?" "The truth is, I keep kosher and I don't know if the food will be kosher," he admits. To which his friends immediately suggest an alternative, a "candy" party with paper plates and dishes. The above is an excerpt from an educational project launched this year that attempts to bridge the religious-secular divide through a new and fun medium - comic strips. Three thousand elementary school pupils from state and state-religious schools participated in the project this year, and last month sent in their strips to a nationwide contest. On Monday, the 50 finalists will split into mixed religious-secular teams to create new strips. Judges will choose the best three strips and will award prizes to the winners and their schools. The joint initiative between Tzav Pius - an NGO that encourages dialogue programs, founded after the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin - and the Center for Educational Technology (CET) encourages the acquisition of dialogue tools and finding ways to interact with and understand those who are different. The project, entitled "Getting Out of the Bubble, Talking through Comics," was built around a new Web site where students could build the comics themselves. After learning about dialogue, pupils composed comics dealing with issues that arise between religious and secular. Some of them, for example, addressed the issue of kosher food. A group of children planned a class trip or a party in some of the comics. Through the planning and organizing, the religious children learned how to express their need for kosher food without giving offense, while the secular ones learned how to take into account the needs of the religious pupils in a way that didn't exclude them or ridicule them. Aliza Gershon, Tzav Pius's director, explained the purpose of the initiative: "The project allows children to understand and learn, starting at an early age, the importance of discussion and tolerance between different groups in society - and all through an enjoyable, fun and age-appropriate comics competition. Every year, more and more schools become interested in joining the project, and we believe that in light of the excitement the competition engenders in schools, the project will continue to grow next year." Gila Ben-Har, CEO of CET, concurred. "Promoting discussion and tolerance at these ages is no less important than their in-depth studies. The comics are an effective tool to convey content, and a learning technique that contributes to raising awareness of the topic and encouraging pupils to become involved. If through the comics we've succeeded in promoting an understanding that there is another way to communicate with 'the Other,' then we are satisfied," she said in a statement. "We hope that next year the project will grow and expand," Ben-Har added. The well-known Israeli comics writers Uri Fink and Shai Charka will meet with the finalists on Monday, while Children's Channel presenter Kobi Mahat will emcee the finals.