Kids create Jerusalem visions — and vie for a trip

More than 100 Bay Area children tried to reach Jerusalem last month using their pens, crayons, scissors, Magic Markers and paint.

The young artists, aged 7-14, created their visions of the Old City for an art contest in honor of "Jerusalem 3000," a yearlong celebration that will mark the holy city's trimillenium. Twelve local children will win the international contest and its coveted prize of a two-week trip to the Jewish state.

The prize includes a ticket for the winner's guardian.

Last Wednesday, the field of 100 young artists narrowed to 20 finalists. At a ceremony held at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation offices, Israeli Consul General Jehudi Kinar gave each of the finalists an award.

"There were some beautiful pieces of work," said Kinar proudly.

Out of a sea of stenciled domes and Stars of David, of penciled, painted and cut-out Western Walls, staff members from the San Francisco Consulate General of Israel chose what they felt were the most evocative works.

Among the winners was 8-year-old Etana Zack, who not only draws but also publishes a newspaper for her extended family. The paper is called the "Zack Pack News." She now thinks art, however, might be her true calling.

Zack's award-winning drawing includes a gold-glittered sun shining down on a crowded, colorful rendering of the city's skyline. Gold glitter also spells out the Hebrew translation of the song title "Jerusalem of Gold."

The artist says that never having seen the City of Gold in person wasn't a problem.

"I use my imagination a lot. I make things with cardboard from the recycling bin. I just make things," said Zack, whose father, Rabbi Howard Zack, is the leader of Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland.

Matthew Levee, however, saw Jerusalem for himself on a visit two years ago, when he was 12. In one of the most striking contest entries, Levee recreated his vision of the city by cutting the outline of an array of buildings out of white paper and pasting it over a blue background.

The San Ramon High School student undertook the project during religious school at Congregation B'nai Shalom in Walnut Creek.

"I was trying to get the essence of what the city was all about, the combination of all the different styles of architecture and the beauty that it portrays," said Levee.

Getting young people excited about Israel is one of Jerusalem 3000's major goals, said Kinar. The celebration will include everything from the production of original musicals and symphonies to an international quiz on Jerusalem.

The consul general is also hoping that even those children who don't actually get to the Old City will be drawn into the far-away festivities through their artwork.

"The moment the kids draw, they get involved themselves," Kinar explained. "The subject gets nearer to them. And it's not just the kids, but the parents, too. They've been telling me how now they want to visit Israel and Jerusalem. It's a wonderful byproduct of the contest."

The art project is sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Education, which will announce the winners in the next couple of months. Jerusalem 3000 organizers are hoping the prize-winning pieces will be displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.