Towering trust

Jews and Arabs, a Russian trainer, and a few Catalonians get together to build a human tower.

human tower 88.298 (photo credit: )
human tower 88.298
(photo credit: )
The language barrier may have brought down the legendary tower of Babel, but it wasn't a problem at the Denmark School last week as children and adults built a human tower under the direction of a Catalonian professional team. "It's simple", says Shadi Zmorrod, a project developer at the Jerusalem Circus and one of the propelling forces behind the tower project. "All you need is plenty of good will, energy, some technique and a little faith in what you do." The Jerusalem Circus, a non profit organization supported by Abraham Fund Initiative and Alan B. Slifka Foundation, was established in 1994, the brainchild of Elisheva Yortner, a former art teacher. "The circus is all about fun, responsibility, and helping one another, which are three very important things when you want to build a dialogue," Yortner explains, adding that as the children learn the arts of juggling, balancing and acrobatics, they also learn the art of coexistence. In 1996, Yortner was introduced to Slava Oleinik, who served as the director of the youth circus of Berdichev in the FSU before immigrating to Israel. He then became the circus's primary teacher. Nearly 100 children and teenagers, ages seven to 18, practice once a week, and have already performed in the United States, Canada and Europe as well as at events in Jerusalem. And unlike many Jewish-Arab coexistence projects, especially in Jerusalem, the children have continued to meet, even through the worst of the violence and terror in Jerusalem. Zmorrod read about the "TeamTowers" human tower building troop on the web and together they planned the event for the end of the year, to celebrate Christmas, Hanukka and Eid-al-Adha. The TeamTower Company, headed by Alvar Solache, has built towers in Germany, Italy and Greece. This is their first time in the Middle East. Human tower-building is an ancient Catalonian tradition, dating back at least 250 years. In Catalonia, these towers ("castellers" in Catalan) often reach as high as eight levels. Every Catalan town has their own team or Colla made up of men, woman and children. Everybody can participate in this pyramid - the grown-ups form the base, while the children climb on top. According to tradition, the castell is completed when a young child waves to the crowd from the top of the pinnacle. It's great fun, but Solache believes that human tower-building is more than that. "This tradition is aimed at ice-breaking and building trust between its participants," he says. "Our goal is to carve out a human pyramid, a solid structure that will keep its balance. If you want to stand that high up, you really need to trust your partners." Nearly 200 people attended last week's event. And when invited by Solache, dozens of them participated in the event, too. After the children and members of TeamTowers warmed up informally, Yortner greeted the crowd, dedicating the event to "the children of Jerusalem's communities and children of the entire world." The children, Jewish and Arab, wore black T-shirts with their names in Hebrew, English and Arabic and sported traditional Catalonian red scarves provided by TeamTowers. "Technically, this exercise is not a very difficult one, and since most of the kids who participate in the circus have some kind of a background, that should not be too difficult for them," said circus trainer Oleinik. "The main objective of this stunt really is a symbolic one - showing that all of us can work together." But first, said Solache, each participant must fasten his or her "fasha" - a long, wide strip of heavy black cloth that is wrapped around the waist and abdomen and helps provide support and stability to each individual and to the entire structure. Solache supervised as everyone wrapped their fashas. Oleinik beamed, especially at some of the younger children who wrapped the copious fabric around their tummies. "The language of the circus is international," he said. "Some Arabs here do not speak Hebrew, the Jews do not master Arabic, I mix Hebrew and Russian and the Catalonians speak their own language all the time, but we are doing just fine - this is indeed a beautiful day." Eid Saader from Beit Hanina, whose three children took part in the construction of the tower, was delighted. "When you play together, work together and build something together, you learn to respect the other and recognize his cultural differences," he said. "My kids are aware of Jewish holidays now, they had Jewish friends from before, and this project just brought them closer together." Eid doesn't believe that all is picture-perfect or that his hope that Jewish and Arab kids will play together instead of killing each other will be immediately translated into reality. Yet he hopes that at least the kids who are involved in the Jerusalem Circus and in building the human tower "will know each other well and will create a solid base for a more peaceful future." As a young woman from TeamTowers played a traditional Catalonian horn-like instrument, Solache assembled the older children and adult volunteers from the audience. The traditional instrument, he explained, not only summons the townspeople to the tower-building performance; the various melodies are actually instructions to the performers. As Solache showed the performers and volunteers how to brace their hands, providing stability and a human safety-net for the people who towered above them, the three-story tower took shape. Each person, he explained, must stand just-so, and when made properly, the entire structure can even rotate a full circle, and no one will fall or collapse. Parents, perhaps less convinced, watched with a special combination of pride and trepidation as their children, some only five or six years old, climbed high and stood on the shoulders and heads of the adults beneath them. And finally, Tamar Singer, aged seven, scrambled to the top and proudly waved the traditional Catalonian greeting. Tamar is the daughter of Wendy Singer and Saul Singer (Editorial Page Editor at The Jerusalem Post). Noted Wendy, "This project is a great way to bring together children who live just a few kilometers away from each other but are separated by an invisible abyss of misunderstandings and misconceptions. "How can these kids know each other and respect each other if they grow up without actually meeting?" she pointed out. Tamar herself was a bit more prosaic in her response. Asked by Solache what she saw from her high perch, she responded, seven-year-old style, "People!" After the structure was dismantled, Eman Farhat, a student at Denmark School and a resident of Beit Hanina, expressed the hope that the next tower of this kind will be much taller and include more people "It was hard, but it was worth it - we had a great time," she said. As they watched the nimble children, many of the grown-ups might have sighed to themselves, thinking, "If only all of the Middle-East's problems could be solved by the means of a giant, multi-cultural, multi-ethnical and multi-religious human tower." For more information about the Jerusalem Circus, visit their website: