Ohr Torah Stone’s Yachad Program is always seeking innovative ways of connecting secular Israelis to their Jewish identity, stressing the common history, heritage and values shared by Jews of all backgrounds and beliefs in an effort to build a strong, united society.
From flagship programs like “The Candle that Connects,” which has become a major event across the country each Chanukah, to batei midrash (Jewish Study Halls) which give religious and secular youth an opportunity to learn with one another from shared sources, our Jewish Cultural Facilitators are at the forefront of connecting Jews to Judaism, as well as to one another.
One such innovative program was recently spearheaded by Avi Poch, our Jewish Cultural Facilitator in the Greater Baka Region of Jerusalem, in partnership with Artists4Israel, a group of internationally renowned graffiti artists.
While many people view graffiti as vandalism – certainly not as an art form – Poch was able to convince Dorit Shitrit, the director of his community center, that it could be used “as a learning tool for children’s artistic expression and community-building,” as reported by Laura Kelly in the Jerusalem Post’s In Jerusalem Magazine. Once Shitrit was on board, “Poch still had to convince the principal of the Zalman Aranne school, Mor Keren, to allow 15 artists free rein over the outside walls of the building,” Kelly writes. “Art opens people’s eyes,” he pointed out. “When a child suddenly comprehends the meaning in what initially seems to be abstract, they begin to understand other connections in their lives as well.”
In addition to the inherent community-building values, as a Jewish Cultural Facilitator, Poch wanted to make sure the project was imbued with a Jewish heritage component. He suggested to Shitreet, Keren and the artists themselves that the theme of the schoolyard graffiti be the Twelve Tribes of Israel. “The neighborhood streets where many of the pupils live are named after the twelve tribes, and yet most of the children don’t know anything about them,” Poch explains. “By actively involving the children in the project, a bond is created between the child, the street, the tribe and the Jewish nation. The artwork will remain on the school’s façade, serving as a springboard for the pupils – who hail from a host of national, cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds – to examine the progenitors they all have in common.”
On the day of the event, the schoolchildren prepared a special welcome for the artists, singing songs that speak of the longing for a return to Israel throughout the generations, about the beauty of the country and how to go about building it one step at a time. “In all,” relates Poch, “over 400 adults and children participated, each making their own mark – through a can of spray paint – on collective murals which illustrate Jews’ connection to one another, to the community and the Jewish people.”