I AM: Israel
May in Israel is a time of juxtaposition for this tiny yet dynamic country that has been called ‘the bellybutton of the world’. The 15th of May marks Israel’s Declaration of Independence (Hakhrazat HaAtzma’ut), but considered ‘al-Nakba‘ (‘the catastrophe’) for bordering Arab countries. So, it was a poignant co-incidence that the I AM: Israel exhibition opened on this day at Tel Aviv University to celebrate the children and, symbolically, the future of the nation.
Diversity was an important aspect of this project, if the mission was to provide outreach to a true cross-section of the country’s children. Three cities, three schools and three different grade levels participated in the project that included a kindergarten group, a 6th grade class, and an 8th grade class.
Tzivuni Gan (Tulip Kindergarten), Safed
This segregated kindergarten consists of one half orthodox boys and one half secular boys and girls. Set on a beautiful hillside with a clear view of the Golan Heights, this small, yet lively school was full of enthusiastic five year-olds. Divisions aside, the children expressed the same playful curiosity in front of the camera, conveying a clear message about inherent human emotions. The two-day workshop culminated with an exhibition combining the portraits from both classes at the city’s cultural center. An overwhelming number of children and families attended the opening, where the children stood in unison for a round of applause.
Hadar HaSharon, Netanya
Greeted by the most polite and welcoming middle school students, we were invited into the 6th grade classroom of the quaint and village-like compound. Students participated in the workshop which included viewing portraits from the Safed kindergarten compared with other photographs of Indian, Ethiopian, and American children. With subtle sophistication and the quirky expressions somehow only adolescents can achieve, the students created a diverse sampling of personalities.
This unique center for K-12 Jewish-Arab education is one of only three such schools in Israel. Welcomed by an impromptu performance of a small chorus of children singing Hand-In-Hand (the school’s anthem sung half in Arabic and half in Hebrew) it was obvious that there was an important message. After an in-depth discussion about the students’ thoughts and experiences about their integrated environment, and after making incredibly astute observations about other I AM: portraits, the stage was set for the 8th grade class to click their portraits. In a flurry of activity ranging from boisterous and cynical to insecure and demure, the photos are an honest representation of teenage energy days before summer vacation.
Very special thanks to Yael Amitz Lev, Hamutal Gur, Barbara & Joe Gurkoff, Stevi & Jon Gurkoff, Gene Gurkoff, Eti Iluz, Jane & Robert Kantor, Hannah Kloda, Liat Lazarovich, Efrat Meyer, Gail Reiss, Barbara Schriebman, Gan Savion, Meirav Sharpi, Joseph Sicurella, Racheli Warcavsky.