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Circus seeks to bridge religious divide in Israel

In a village in the Galilee region in Northern Israel, children are performing in a circus that brings together Jewish and Arab children in the name of peace and fun.

TEL AVIV: Every year, all around the world, hundreds of thousands of excited children look forward to a trip to the circus where they can see all kinds of feats and spectacles.

But in a village in the Galilee region in Northern Israel, it is the children themselves who are making the circus -- in a unique experiment that brings together Jewish and Arab children in the name of peace and fun.

It is not often that a circus has a rabbi at the helm, and it is not often that Arab and Jewish kids play together side by side.

But the Galilee Circus is no ordinary circus -- the performers' tricks and leaps defy politics as well as gravity.

Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, the founder of Galilee Circus, said: "This is not just a little after school programme for the locals. They are part of something that goes way beyond. When the American circus came over for the first time, (a) black teenager got off the bus from St Louis and said, ‘how am I supposed to know who’s a Jew and who’s an Arab?’ And I said, ‘you’re not, that’s the point’.”

Rabbi Rosenstein started with a not-so-modest mission of "saving the world". In a region more known for bombs and terror, the rabbi wanted clowns and laughter.

As the circus enters its tenth year, Rabbi Rosenstein’s vision of bringing Jewish and Arab children together has been enormously successful.

Hela Assadi, a performer, said: "For me, it doesn’t matter. We are all human, we are people. We are all friends. It doesn’t matter -- I am Muslim, he’s Jewish. I don’t know what our differences are, we are all the same.”

After six years in the circus, Assadi can speak the language of circus better than most. She counts her Jewish peers as some of her best friends.

When Tali Eisner decided to send her two kids to circus classes alongside Arab children, nobody else in her kibbutz was brave enough to accompany her.

But two years on, that has all changed.

Eisner said: "It’s a great opportunity for us to know our neighbours, for the kids to be curious about each other, to hear Arabic. I am very happy that they get to hear it.”

Shay Ben-Yossef caught the performing bug early. When he was eight, he started going to a juggling class after school.

Five years later, he joined the Galilee Circus.

Ben-Yossef said: "My teacher, he told me, ‘Shay, I’m the head of a Jewish-Arab youth circus…, would you like to join? ...Is that a problem? They’re Jewish and Arab’. I didn’t even see it, I was so young.”

For the children at the circus, juggling comes naturally.

With all the circus skills the children have learnt, they will soon be teaching the rest of Israel – Arab and Jew – that they can learn the art of balancing too. 

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