MIM in Israel Breaks Down Stereotypes, Builds Bridges

By Maayan Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

It might seem as if the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether initiative has been around since time immemorial – and in some way it has. However, some of the programs it has rolled out in recent years are adding a modern twist and new way of thinking about connection and community.

A striking example of this is the way the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Federation of Richmond are working with the Richmond Ballet’s Mind in Motion (MIM) program to connect the Jewish and non-Jewish communities of the South East of the United States to Jewish and Arab communities of Hadera and the Menashe Regional Council. The program is co-funded by United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Late last fall, a joint dancer performance was held for 150 students from the Re’ut School in the Menashe region and the Al Rashidya school in Kalanswa. The event was led by the Richmond Ballet.

Minds in Motion (MIM) is the ballet’s educational program that offers students a shared dance experience as a means of cultural exchange. Since its founding in 1995, 25,000 children across Virginia and Israel have participated in the program with the ultimate goals of empowering youth, transforming communities and breaking down barriers through the unique and special power of dance.

The ballet has come to Israel for the last few years. In 2018, the ballet team worked with new schools and with a larger number of Israeli students than it has in the past: three classes of fourth graders or around 180 students. The lessons were treated as mandatory and there were few students or parents who refused to participate.

The first week, the Israeli and Arab students worked separately with separate instructors. The second week they came together.

“The children were swept into the experience of joint creativity and performed an exciting performance that promotes messages of giving,” Director of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether initiative in Hadera-Elron, Maya Shoham, said.

Alexandra Zaslav is the MIM Israel residency coordinator. She explained that the program is “more than dance but creating shared experiences between Jewish and Arab students that live very close to each other but would otherwise not have the opportunity to connect.”

Further, she said, “It gets kids excited to move and dance.”

Since the instructors don’t speak Hebrew or Arabic and the children don’t necessarily speak each other’s languages, they rely on dance to communicate. It becomes a shared language.

“We set expectations high and the children rise to them,” Zaslav said, noting the program breaks down stereotypes and builds bridges.

Shoham said working on coexistence from an early age has greater opportunity to effect change. She also noted that the program fits within the Partnership2Gether goal of strengthening the local Israeli communities and of building connections.

A final concert took place in mid-November that brought the students and parents together from both communities. Shoham described it as “electric.”

Now, she said, the group is actively looking to identify the right dates for 2019.