"Love thy neighbor" is a basic tenet of our Judeo-Christian tradition. When individuals learn to work, live and grow together, it enables them to reconcile their differences. This is the premise behind the Galilee Youth Circus, a program that brings together Jewish and Arab young people, ages 6 to 18, for after-school programs in acrobatics and circus arts. These young Israelis have discovered that the circus is a foundation for overcoming fear, building trust and using non-verbal communication to better understand one another.
The Galilee Youth Circus troupe will make stops throughout the Greater Philadelphia area for a series of free public performances from July 18-22.
Rabbi Mark Rosenstein, a former Philadelphian who now serves as director of the Makom Ba-Galil — the organization that oversees the operation of the circus and other programs that promote interfaith understanding and acceptance — worked together with the Rev. Dr. Charles Flood of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in the Market East section of Philadelphia and Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council to bring the troupe to the area for an educational and entertaining experience.
Adam Kessler, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, explains the significance of the performance.
"It is a positive and wonderful experience to see kids working together," Kessler said, "developing trust and learning to see one another as people and not nationalities."
Dr. Flood noted, "I think that there are very few opportunities to see people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds doing things together in a cooperative effort. This is a very pure example of that and therefore it will really make audiences learn about how we can bring people together from varying backgrounds to understand each other."
While news coverage of the Mideast paints a black-and-white picture of relations between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens, projects like the Galilee Youth Circus depict a distinctively bright terrain where a mosaic of people and cultures strive to co-exist.
Through their participation, the children commit to laughing and overcoming fears, making people smile and, most importantly, creating a multicultural family.
In its nine years of existence, the program has gained an outstanding reputation as a groundbreaking way to overcome differences between cultures. The productive interaction with Jewish and Arab children paves the way for a peaceful future in Israel.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) serves in interfaith efforts as a common table for airing concerns, promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts and building coalitions among diverse members of the broader community in pursuit of common goals.