Roaming through the Israel Museum, the pre-schoolers clutched their parents’ hands as they were introduced to portraits by Tel Aviv artist Reuven Rubin and a series of plaster children lying on pads arranged on the gallery floor under tiger-striped and bird-dappled blankets. They were then set free in the museum’s youth wing and provided with water colors to create their own masterpieces.
The youngsters came from the Jerusalem International YMCA’s Peace Pre-School, which seeks new ways to bridge the cultural chasms between Israeli and Palestinian children. In this case, the school has entered a partnership to immerse both the children and their teachers in the vast cultural riches of the Israel Museum.
The yearlong program kicked off during November’s eight-day missile war in the Gaza Strip. Tensions were evident as the museum’s director, James Snyder, and the YMCA’s chief executive, Forsan Hussein, brought together children from Jewish, Muslim and Christian families and their parents to explore the galleries together.
The Israel Museum, founded in 1965, is Israel’s largest cultural center and is ranked among one of the world’s greatest art and archeological museums. The YMCA’s Peace Pre-School, also a unique element in the Jerusalem mosaic, is attended by 100 Jewish, Muslim and Christian children with all classes being taught by a Palestinian (Muslim or Christian) and a Jewish Israeli teacher.
Throughout the coming year, the pre-schoolers will spend a day at the museum each month to learn about the works on display and create art themselves with their classmates. Through this unique partnership, students are gaining the opportunity to expand their minds and equip themselves with tools not only to express their vision beyond what they see today, but also how to be creators of a new tomorrow.
On the first day of the program, while missiles and aerial bombardments clouded the skies, I saw the excitement glowing on everyone’s faces, from the mothers and fathers to the teachers and students, and it was as if no conflict was raging between the cultures. Such a moment was a glimpse of what could be and should be in the world’s cradle of humanity.