Human picture

A photo exhibit is combined with a performance to portray how the capital was affected by the second intifada.

temple mt east jerusalem (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
temple mt east jerusalem
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Carol Grosman pays much credence to the notion that a picture speaks a thousand words. According to the American-born creator of Jerusalem Stories, an exhibition by award-winning photographer Lloyd Wolf, and performance depicting the experiences of Jerusalemites affected by the second intifada, which featured at the German Colony's International Cultural Center for Youth last Friday, audiences are able to connect with the subjects of photographs on a far deeper level than they would if presented with those subjects' perspectives in a debate or lecture. "When you look into someone's eyes in a picture you connect with them on the most basic human level," she explains. "Research shows that viewers are subconsciously transported into the experiences they see in photographs and therefore photography has the capacity to evoke powerful responses." A capacity, Grosman stresses, which the medium shares in common with storytelling, a method she often employs in her work with peace-promoting organizations and the one through which she has chosen to portray the tales of her six main subjects, three Jewish and three Arab residents of the holy city. "Like photography, storytelling allows you to feel that you are personally experiencing the events you're presented with," she explains. The stories are told courtesy of actors Chava Ortman and Royi Naveh who adopt the roles of the six subjects at the Hebrew performances. Palestinian actors take on these roles at Arabic showings running at east Jerusalem venues in conjunction with the Israeli ones. "It was important to me that both Israelis and Arabs see the production," Grosman says. "I wanted both peoples to become humanized in the eyes of the other." It was the desire to portray the human face of the conflict, she says, which motivated her to begin working on the project five years ago. "I was spending a year in Israel on an American-sponsored fellowship at the height of the intifada and would repeatedly have to justify being here to friends and family back in the US," she recalls. "As a result I wondered about other Jerusalemites' experiences living in a conflict zone and started interviewing residents of the capital to find out how the intifada had affected them and what their reactions to these difficulties were. I wanted to provide insight into the various ways people react to suffering." She has done so successfully. Her characters paint a poignant picture of the effects of loss. Among them an Arab salesman, Samir al Jundi, who picked up the tricks of his trade at age nine, to provide for his family after their Jerusalem home was demolished in the wake of the Six Day War; a creative Jewish woman who responded to the trauma around her by starting a Psalms group; and the broken mother of a teenage suicide bomb victim. "Once we are able to see each other as human it becomes possible to empathize with what the other has experienced which brings us a step closer toward reconciliation," Grosman says. She hopes to promote her message to as widespread an audience as possible, a desire reflected in her decision to present separate Arab and Israeli showings. "I toyed with the idea of holding one forum in English for both Jews and Palestinians but realized I would have been more likely to attract a certain type of person," she explains. "I didn't want to exclude those who feel unable to sit down with the other or who don't understand English." The hope that the events will act as a form of therapy also prompted her decision. "By allowing the two sides to encounter each other while still remaining within the confines of separate and therefore psychologically safe environments, the performances can have a cathartic effect enabling audiences to experience a process of healing which is an integral part of being able to move on." Additional Israeli performances of Jerusalem Stories take place at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Khan Theater and at the Yakar Center for Social Concern on September 4. Info: 563-0134