A couple nights ago, I too went to the Festival of Light in the Old City in Jerusalem. My friend & I stopped to watch one display where the performers were going to be working with fire – juggling with fire, moving with fire, etc. Having spent the past three years training trapeze at several different circus schools, I am somewhat knowledgeable about fire arts – I could tell you about how to “eat fire,” for example, or what goes into “breathing fire.”
Thus, as I was watching the nimble performers, I was fairly certain that they were probably also acrobats or perhaps had met acrobats – as many fire-performers in the states have at least met acrobats; some individuals I know choose to study aerial arts but also perform fire arts. (Several of my circus friends had fire-eating guests at their wedding, and it was ‘no big deal.’) That’s when it struck me: I knew nothing about the circus community in Israel. In the States and Canada, it’s a pretty small community, and chances are that at least by degrees of separation, every aerialist knows nearly everybody else. But what is it like in Israel?
I asked my friend, who is Israeli, but she said that she didn’t think that Israel had much of a circus community. This could indeed be true – but I also know Americans who are quite unaware of the thriving circus community in the US. I know of an Israeli circus program in the Galilee, and several individuals who are active aerialists – so my hunch is that the Israeli circus culture is small but that it does indeed exist. This culture is a powerful tool for unity – as I’ve previously discussed, sports have united individuals of all backgrounds in Jerusalem’s Gan Saker. But what I love about circus arts is the universal language that unites participants.
I’ve been missing this language, especially over the past several weeks. I’ve been using my Hebrew more and more; I received my first text message in Hebrew; I’ve had several conversations about buses with Israelis that have been solely in Hebrew. It’s not always easy, and I frequently struggle as I search for the right word or verb conjugation. As I mulled over the conversations in my head, wishing I knew more Hebrew, I found myself really missing the universal language and common ground of circus arts.
Earlier this year, I worked with the Galilee Circus to write a grant proposal, and I was able to gain an even greater appreciation for the universality of circus arts. The Karmiel-based Galilee Circus has already demonstrated the power of circus arts in uniting children from different backgrounds. As program director Rabbi Marc Rosenstein describes it, ‘watching the Karmiel child, son of Russian immigrants, balancing atop his Arab friend from nearby Dir El Assad illuminates the concept outlined by circus artist Reg Bolton: “Circus to Save the World.”’ Circus is a unique language of unity that requires co-operation and trust from its participants. Since circus is non-verbal, participants can work together even if they do not speak the same language, and no one has to speak someone else’s language. In fact, at the Galilee Circus, frequently there are language “barriers” between participants – although “barriers” seems to be the wrong word, because truly there are not obstacles in the circus world. Circus becomes the link and the language between the participants. The young aerialists and acrobats gain self-confidence, teamwork experience, and pride through their accomplishment of seemingly impossible feats, from trapeze to ground acrobatics. Circus fosters personal connections that transform distant groups of people into close friends and trusted allies. The Galilee Circus currently provides after-school programming and its youth troupe performs all over Israel, demonstrating the power of utilizing circus as a resource for peace.
I am in awe of what the circus culture and the Galilee Circus have accomplished, and I wonder what the future possibilities are for Israeli aerialists.