Israeli artists get creative with community service

If “art student” means to you “funky and self-absorbed,” it’s time to think again.

Over the past three years, more than 100 arts students in Jerusalem have received scholarships of around $1,000 each in exchange for service in the community, and have themselves undergone a radical change of image.

Shelly ben Shachar, 25, for example, is a major hit with sixth-graders in a south Jerusalem school, who crowd into her film classes. A second-year student in creative production at the Sam Spiegel School of Film and Television in Jerusalem, she is teaching the 12-year-olds a 40-hour course she has designed herself.

“I want to open youngsters up to film and make them more curious about it. This way they develop an appetite to learn more,” ben Shachar says.

Fellow student Elad Kidan, 26, who studies film in the general sector at the Spiegel School, is teaching creative writing at a Jerusalem junior high. “The teens I’m teaching have most enjoyed keeping a diary,” he says, “though we’ve worked on a range of other writing formats, from comics to journalism. Their most recent project is writing a script for a story that takes place in the classroom, which we’ll be acting out and filming.”

Moran Zilber, 28, is a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. In 2005, during her final year at the academy, she taught movement to mentally challenged adults.

“We would stand on chairs or lie on mattresses,” she says, “and either they’d find a movement or I’d show them one that we could all do together. We’d work on specific muscles, on smiles and on hugs. This not only got them to move, but also to feel and to touch — to express emotions through movement, from hate through to love.”

Ben Shachar, Kidan and Zilber are just three of several dozen outstanding Jerusalem art students receiving scholarships through the Edelstein fund, created by the Jerusalem Foundation.

“By connecting art students to the city and involving them in the community,” says Jerusalem Foundation President Ruth Cheshin, “we transform them from visitors to active members of the community. When they complete their studies, we hope they’ll remain to leave their mark here.”

Although the city holds barely half a million, Jerusalem boasts nine arts colleges. In addition to the Sam Spiegel School and the Academy of Music and Dance, there is a School of Photography, a School for Visual Theater, the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, the Ma’aleh Film School, the Hadassah College, the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and the Center for Middle Eastern Music and Dance. Students from all these are eligible for Edelstein scholarships.

“Each institution tends to specialize in a certain kind of community outreach,” says Keren Fania, who administers the Edelstein Fund for the Jerusalem Foundation. “Those from the Sam Spiegel School, for example, teach film writing and production in Jerusalem schools. Students from the Music and Dance Academy hold dance workshops for those with behavioral difficulties. Others run after-school programs in film, photography and theater for the mentally disabled, in creative writing in underprivileged neighborhoods, and in creating neighborhood Internet sites.”

“I feel the time I’ve put into my sixth-grade class, both in the classroom and in preparation, has been really worthwhile,” says ben Shachar. “The kids have definitely gone through a process in the short time we’ve spent together. They see things differently now than at the beginning, and this means I can do much more with them and expect much more of them.”

Zilber’s community work led her directly into a career working as a counselor in a hostel for mentally disabled adults. “I simply fell in love with the people here,” she says. “Now that I have the training to help them express their emotions, I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”