We are delighted to share some of the recent accomplishments of the various Ann Belsky Moranis Arts tracks in the Ohr Torah Stone schools.
A Means of Expression
At a recent gallery exhibition of art projects from all the art programs in the national religious high schools which took place in the Wohl auditorium of Bar Ilan University, five of Neveh Channah’s submissions were presented – the most of any school in the country.
Moreover, three of the presentations won prizes – also the highest number of awards garnered by any single school in the country.
“The Ann Belsky Moranis Program provides our students with a means for personal growth and fulfillment, for social comment and for an outlet through which to express their internal struggles,” explained Levia Cohen, director of the program at Neveh Channah, at the event.
“Teenagers struggle with many issues; teens being raised in a religious environment perhaps struggle even more,” noted Cohen. “Art gives them an opportunity for self-examination, to express their beliefs, and to explore principles and values in a natural and non-threatening manner. I find it especially meaningful to teach in an environment where students’ spiritual growth is enhanced through the arts and they are being given an opportunity to develop their own individual opinions and voice their thoughts,” she added.
Spirituality through Creativity
The intertwining of the creative and spiritual – a primary goal of the Ann Belsky Moranis program since its inception – was also evident in the recent presentations at the Oriya high school, which took place on three separate evenings.
The first was devoted to the classic and graphic arts, and featured two exhibitions. “Process” was a collection of the graphic arts students’ works, under the direction of teacher Einat Feig, while “Out of Chaos” displayed works by students in the arts track, under the direction of Tali Farkash. Many subjects were illustrated in both collections, but the common thread was the expression of a connection between the budding young artists and the reality of their surroundings.
“Exercises in Connection” was the name of the second event, which featured works by students in the Drama track at the school. Nurit Goodman-Pasternak oversaw the production of scenes from three plays, all of which focused somehow on the relationship between the individual and society, and the implications and responsibilities which arise from this connection.
“The Ann Belsky Moranis program gives our students an opportunity to create art which is young, relevant, alive and kicking, and especially art which is connected to values and to the community,” says Sagit Zeliger, the Arts Coordinator at Oriya. “The events at which the students can showcase their matriculation projects are uplifting and exciting, and they touched us all as art touches the very fiber of our being. Everyone who took part –students, teachers and attendees – all felt the experience,” she asserts.
The final Oriya event, called “Stones and Water,” gave the public an opportunity to view final works by students in the Dance and Film tracks.
One of only three religious high schools in Israel to offer dance as a matriculation track, Oriya’s unique dance curriculum, pioneered by Sarah Burenstein, reflects modern dance, ballet, composition, history of dance, music and anatomy, as well as an especially innovative class integrating dance with study of the Jewish sources.
“Dance was used as a form of religious communication in the Bible and throughout the Psalms. It is clear that dance was a means of demonstrating joy, awe and devotion,” she says. “We are continuing the Jewish tradition of synthesizing religious expression with artistic passion.”
Likewise, film has proven to be an arena which students examine boundaries and attempt to synthesize between the various influences in their lives. A case in point: at the event, Film track director Rivka Imber congratulated one of last year’s final projects, “Seret Banot” (“Chick Flick”), for winning second place in the final competition held at the Conference of State-Religious School Film Departments.
“‘Chick Flick’ deals with a common issue affecting teen girls: modesty,” she said. “The film provides an open view and insightful discussion on the subject, both from the perspective of the teenager and from the perspective of the teacher or parent – something that you don’t necessarily expect to emanate from a religious school,” she acknowledged.
“The movie deals with one of the most burning issues for us, that of modesty in dress,” said creators Nachala Ben Shalom, Shaked Neshama and Shira Kamins. “It’s a movie with a light touch, which follows a week in the life of a ulpana student, but really it’s about all of us. What is most amazing perhaps was that even though we were critically examining a core value on which our school is based, the entire faculty and even our principal, Yonat Lemberger, enthusiastically supported us and took part in the film. We feel blessed to be studying in a place which not only lets us – but actively enables us – to engage in honest discussion on important issues of self-identity,” say the trio.
Creativity is Godliness
Final films from last year’s film track at Neveh Shmuel were also celebrated recently. “Primary Colors,” a movie about teen angst and self-perception, was screened at the Jersausalem Cinemateque Youth Film Day, accompanied by a joint interview with its creators, Danny Freudenberger, Matan Sacofsky and Asaf Sacofsky.
Two other movies from last year’s crop were selected for screenings at the Herzlia Young Cinema festival, and were also screened on television. “Listen My Son,” by Elimelech Ash and Eino Ahila, paints a poignant picture of a teenage boy of Ethiopian descent and his family’s struggle to acclimate to life in Israel, while “A Brother’s Secret,” by Ariel Rosenberg, portrays a boy who tries unsuccessfully to prevent his classmates from bullying a boy who is “different” , and the disastrous effects of their cruelty.
Yaakov Friedland, director of Neveh Shmuel’s film track, was honored at this year’s Conference of State-Religious School Film Departments and presented with a special certificate of “outstanding educator” in recognition of 14 years of teaching film and communications through a Jewish lens. “Creativity is Godliness,” insists Friedland. “The ability for self-expression stems from the fact that we as humans were created in the image of God, the ultimate Creator.” Friedland explains that involvement in cinema enables his students to express themselves and deal with issues in the forefront of their concern or questions they may have in social, interpersonal or even the religious arena. “Not only does art not contradict religion,” he says, “it complements religion and enables a person to fully express his religiosity.”