Jerusalem bears down for int'l exhibition

Kikar Safra will play host to the United Buddy Bears (UBB) exhibition.

united buddy bears 298.8 (photo credit: Courtesy)
united buddy bears 298.8
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A representative of Israel will stand side by side with envoys from Iran and Iraq on Wednesday, uniting in a show of good will made possible, for now, only by artists. Kikar Safra in Jerusalem will play host to the United Buddy Bears (UBB) exhibition. Called "The Art of Tolerance," it is a colorful display featuring large statues of bears representing 133 countries recognized by the United Nations. UBB is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 in Berlin by Dr. Klaus Herlitz and his wife, Eva, to promote acceptance and understanding among nations around the world. The motto of UBB is "To get to know each other better, trust each other more, and live together more peacefully." "We wanted to bring together more than 130 nations worldwide, which stand together for peace and tolerance," explained Eva Herlitz. "The most important thing is to get kids involved because if children grow up seeing people all over the world holding hands and standing together, then we will have a better world." The bear was selected from other animals to represent the nations because it is the symbol of Berlin. Standing tall at about three meters with their paws in the air, each bear is identical in size and shape; but what distinguishes each one are the designs painted on them by artists from their respective countries. The bears are arranged in a circle to promote the message of harmony and peaceful coexistence. Visitors can experience a trip around the world as they examine each design and learn about the different countries as a basis to further their understanding of different nations. "This is a demonstration for tolerance and understanding," said Michael Stefanescu, the project manager of UBB. "The design on each bear represents the culture, taste, language - what differentiates us. Each country is as important as the other, no matter how big, and we are all equal standing here peacefully hand in hand." The bear that had represented Israel until now was painted in varying shades of blue and was adorned with the words "Shamayim K'chulim MiYisrael (blue skies from Israel)." However, in honor of the exhibition's visit to Jerusalem, a new bear has been designed for the occasion and will be unveiled at Wednesday's opening ceremony. There is also a bear representing the Palestinians. The bears of all the countries are decorated with various prints, designs, symbols, and words depicting their cultural identity. For example, Lebanon's has a blue head, with a white body covered with images of green cedar trees. Others have more intricate designs. Many of the countries have had new bears designed over the years. The organization then auctions off the older bears for charities such as UNICEF and others dedicated to helping children in need. The exhibition has debuted in 12 countries so far, the most recent being Egypt, where it was displayed in Cairo in April. Plans to bring the exhibit to Jerusalem had been in the works since November with the aid of Shimon Stein, the Israeli ambassador in Berlin. The opening ceremony, which begins on Wednesday at 8 p.m., will feature music and speeches. The exhibition is free of charge and will be open until August 28. The next stop on the UBB world tour is Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October.