Defying Gravity

This artcile originally appeared (in Hebrew) in Dugrinet.

By Talie Eisner Friedman

I sit excited in the crowd. The music is exciting, all around the circus ring. I have seen this show ten times already and yet I am not giving up my good seat, and the hope of another photo. Well after all ... my son is preforming!

“Join us in defying gravity!” Thus Jessica explains to the audience what happens in the circus.

Here you can roll, spin and ride a unicycle. And it is still not too late – even for you – to join the circus ... and still be home in time for dinner!

In August, I joined a group from the Galilee Circus to travel with them to partner with the St Louis Arches in the city of that name. This is the oldest group of the social circus, Circus Harmony, which Jessica Hentoff established 25 years ago with a vision that is still relevant and vital: to concentrate on what connects and brings people together – instead of what is different and divides us – and to demonstrate what can be achieved together.

At the Galilee Circus, run by the Galilee Foundation for Value Education, Jews and Arabs from Karmiel and Misgav, Majd al-Krum and Deir al-Asad, practice together. The St Louis Arches (named for the famous Gateway Arch in St Louis), come from all over that city, from different ethnic and class backgrounds.

Jessica never tires for a moment from explaining her project, taking pictures, uploading them to Facebook, making contacts and partnerships, or spreading her message through the media. The St Louis Arches have visited Israel three times, and they have now hosted us in St Louis for the third time, with love and joy.

After two and a half weeks of strength, flexibility, joy and creativity, and especially a lot of friendship and fun, I know that it is really possible for the boys and girls to defy gravity.

And it's not just because they know how to build a human pyramid of six storeys, or spin a hula-hoop on their legs, waist, neck and beyond.

It is because of the youth themselves, whose beauty and strength are so special. Alive, explosive and defiant. It’s because of their overcoming of fear and their willingness to do what it takes. And it is because of their wonderful talent and great joy, to be good, and even professional, in something special, turning people’s heads, arousing admiration and appreciation, wonder, laughter and excitement!

This is why circus is so special.  Anybody, young and old, who sees these boys and girls would also dream to be there with them. It is special in a society like ours, that applies labels to people, because it's like doing the opposite – labelling for the better! Practicing and performing in the circus together is defying the gravity of prejudice and fear, defying the gravity of the ordinary and the familiar. And a willingness to approach, respect and trust others.

At one show, I sat in the front row (of course) next to several small children. In the acrobatics act we saw children flying in the air, tossed, spun and caught in a variety of ways. The boy sitting next to me said to his friend: ''They are saving their lives!''

So obvious, yet it's amazing to note – in the circus, everyone's life is in good hands, even loving ones.

I admire both groups, trying to learn everything I can from them, and also explain what I can. In the eyes of our American hosts, Arabs and Jews look the same. It might surprise them that they can’t tell us apart, because in the US, colour is so noticeable. But our American hosts have no language barrier... And I have to explain what may be obvious here in Israel: Arabs speak Hebrew, but Jews do not speak Arabic. Do I exaggerate? It seems to me this is largely true. And how easily we accept this language barrier that stands between us.

Yet, though all the children in the United States speak a single language, are their cultural differences any less than ours?

Americans too have racism, police brutality and politicians who foment hatred. And huge economic disparities, far greater than in Israel. As the children spin on the mattresses, my thoughts swirl in my head.  But does it matter – these nuances in the bridges we need to build?

In circus we have a universal language of mind and body: cooperation, appreciation of those near me, and complete confidence that he will be here, that she will be there, on time and in the right place.

Finally we bid farewell in tears.

Now we are returning for a year of new activities at the Galilee Circus, with a strong desire to move forward and become more professional, and awaiting our next meeting!


We are grateful to Talie Eisner Friedman and Dugrinet for permission to publish a translation of her Hebrew article, which also appeared in A-La-Gush, the magazine of the Misgav communities.

Talie is co-founder and co-editor for Hebrew content at Dugrinet,  which is the only Hebrew-Arabic bilingual independent information source for the Galilee.   Talie accompanied the children of the Galilee Circus (one of whom, Rotem, is her son) on their trip to St Louis.

Defying Gravity