Young Arab and Jewish Israelis connect through photography
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Young Arab and Jewish Israelis connect through photography

Works to be exhibited at Puffin Cultural Forum

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An image from “Through Others’ Eyes” art exhibit

“Through Others’ Eyes,” an art exhibit to be held at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck from Aug. 3 to 18, is the culmination of a year’s worth of efforts toward understanding between young Israeli Jews and Arabs.

Twenty Israeli high school students were selected to engage in a program about understanding cultural differences through art. The program is run by Givat Haviva Educational Foundation, an Israeli organization whose mission is to “work for a shared Israel,” says Yaniv Sagee, current Israel Representative for Givat Haviva in New York. Photography was the art-form chosen, because taking photos of unfamiliar homes and towns lets the participants “get a sense of looking through others’ eyes,” says Sagee. “The idea of the program is everyone, Arab or Jewish, is on equal ground. No one is superior. They all don’t know photography.”

In the yearlong program, the 20 students take a quick course in photography, then meet once a week at one another’s homes. Jewish participants go into Arab neighborhoods and take photos of life there, and Arab participants go into Jewish neighborhoods.

“It truly is a wonderful way of getting youngsters together,” says Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, executive director of the Puffin Foundation, which runs the cultural forum. “Givat Haviva uses photos to show that there are a lot of similarities, and the home is the basis of their similarities. Even though they have different customs, family stays the same.”

During the summer, after the photography portion has run its course, the participants come to the United States for several weeks. They live and bunk together at Camp Shomria in Liberty, N.Y., which is “an opportunity to have an open dialogue about Arab and Jewish coexistence in Israel,” says Sagee. Then the program brings the participants to New York City for R&R and a meeting with Presbyterians their age. They have been stopping in Teaneck during this portion of their trip for nearly a decade, to be present on the opening night of the exhibit at Puffin, and “it has always been unbelievable for us,” Miller-Rosenstein says. The Puffin Foundation partially funds the New York portion of the trip.

“Naturally, people begin to trust one another after a while,” says Perry Rosenstein, president of Puffin Foundation. “Givat Haviva mainly stresses understanding through education,” he says. Sagee says it was natural for Givat Haviva and Puffin to join together, adding, “Givat Haviva has similar values with Puffin – they are very much about social education, tikkun olam,” repairing the world.

The participants are always proud to see their photographs framed and hung in an exhibit, says Merri Milwe, artistic director of the Puffin Cultural Forum. “I selected photographs that moved me in some way, that represents Givat Haviva in some way….. This exhibit shows kinship between peoples…. These photos don’t lie,” she says. Rachel Banai, a Teaneck-based phographer, and her husband, Moshe, are helping to hang the photos.

Both Milwe and Miller-Rosenstein are quick to point out that area residents have much to gain from seeing the exhibit and speaking with 16 of the program participants, who will be present at the gallery’s opening on Wednesday, Aug. 3, at 7 p.m.

They will discuss the process of the year, what they have learned along the way, and “show what they did and what they think,” says Sagee.

This is the final event of their stay, and “this is their chance to speak out. All questions are really open and welcomed,” says Perry Rosenstein. After that, the participants will return to camp and then to Israel, where they will begin their senior year of high school.

“[Here] we have groups within the larger whole, and people stick to their own group,” says Miller-Rosenstein. She continues, “This is an opportunity to move out of that, see the world through a larger scope…. [The exhibit] will hopefully show the people that young Israelis can learn through education to live with one another. It’s an opportunity… to see what could be.”

She adds, “This is a program that plants seeds. Seeds build bridges. Bridges build relationships, and relationships build our future – a future of peace, one hopes.”

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