There is a basic concept in circus art one cannot do without: Trust. If you are swinging from a trapeze or performing acrobatic tricks, you need to have total faith in your partner. This is precisely the idea that drives the Israel Circus School to create a peaceful space where Jewish and Arabic youth can start to get to know one another and build friendships. The school recently held its first convention called “Climbing Walls,” to envision an idea of conflict resolution through circus art.
Director Hanita-Caroline Hendelman and art director David Berry established the Israel Circus School in 2002 in Kfar Yehosuha in Northern Israel. The school holds professional trainings in acrobatics, clowning and all areas of circus arts. They have regular classes throughout the year for youth and adults and a variety of social and multicultural projects. At the school Muslims, Jews, Ethiopians, Russians, Druze and Christians come together to juggle, jump and laugh.
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Apart from the “Climbing Walls” convention, the school has been organizing a cultural integration event called “Day at the Circus” for years for students from Jewish and Arabic schools in Israel to come together and learn about each other. “When they arrive, at first they examine each other,” says Hendelman. But the ice breaks quickly. During lunch break the students are asked to teach each other songs in their own language.
By the time they part, they often exchange telephone numbers, Hendelman says. “We have the same mentality and mind, in the end we get along very well,” says one girl from the Nazareth Arabic school. David Berry agrees: “They all watch MTV and wear Jeans. They look at each other as kids not as Jews and Arabs.”
Adnan Turabshi, an Israeli Druze theater director and writer often brings children from his village to the Israel Circus School, because he believes that circus art is a powerful communication tool. “In the circus you have to touch, trust and support your partner. In circus Jews and Arabs have to rely on each other, if they don’t they could not perform together.”
The”Climbing Walls” convention, held on July 19-21, was launched to “find innovative and creative means of resolving conflict situations.” The name was suggested by David Berry. “It acknowledges that walls between cultures and nations can more easily be climbed than broken,” he says. The convention was held in the mixed Arab and Jewish town of Acre (Acco), in Galilee, Northern Israel.
More than one hundred acrobats and clowns volunteered from Israel and from an variety of foreign countries, ranging from Brazil to Switzerland. The schedule included a wide range of circus workshops and a public street circus in the old port of Acre. “It was just so magical and colorful. The air was full of joy, and vibrant,” Hendelman tells NoCamels. She now plans to build a circus art center in the city.
The Israel Circus School has been hailed for successful “coexistence projects,” however, Hendelman prefers not use that world: “I think there is no coexistence, only one existence. We cannot force anything to happen. When we talk about integrating cultures, we tend to think about it as something very special. But I like to think about it as something very natural and mundane. We have to encourage and make space for things that can grow organically. This is what happened in Acco. There were Arabic and Jewish kids working together in a natural way. It was three days just being together, sleeping together and eating together. Amazing friendships grew out of this. So this is our project for the future: to create situations through which it becomes so natural just being together, that’s it’s not a big deal.”
She adds “I know these are all beautiful dreams, but so was the ‘Climbing Walls’ convention, and it happened.”