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Connecting Through Art

Art and life mirrored each other when special needs and high school students from New York and Jerusalem met at the Baka’a Community Center on a hot July morning to listen to the story of King Solomon and the bee, and then create a huge jigsaw puzzle of a painting based on the story.

In the story, King Solomon takes mercy on a little bee that stung him and lets her live. The King’s compassion is later repaid when the bee helps Solomon identify the real flower amongst fakes presented by the Queen of Sheba. In the same way, the compassion of high school students from New York and Jerusalem in helping mentally retarded youth has given them the opportunity to see what is real and learn some lessons about purity of soul.

The day’s Connecting Through Art program, meant to introduce New Yorkers and Jerusalemites, provided the perfect atmosphere for the special needs students from both cities to meet and get to know each other. Connecting Through Art projects, designed by artists Nurit Shani and Dror Eshed, are placed in public places around Jerusalem as part of Partnership 2000, and funded by the Jewish Agency, United Jewish Communities (UJA) Federation of New York, and the City of Jerusalem.

Even though temperatures were soaring and the day’s activities were more than an hour late in getting started, Yachad members – the New York group of special needs and high school students on their first trip to Israel -- were met with enthusiasm by their Jerusalem counterparts.

Rachel Cohn, 17, has been volunteering with Yachad for three years. The first Shabbat she spent with the group brought her to tears. But that first emotional experience kept her coming back. Rachel is deeply appreciative of what her friends at Yachad have given her.

“I learn so much, I get so much out of it,” she says. “I have learned to appreciate what I have. At first it sounded too hard but then I realized who these people are: You don’t look on the outside, you look inside.”

Taking advantage of this special opportunity, high schoolers from Yachad quickly made friends with their Jerusalem hosts. Although on the surface, the high school students have more to give than the special needs students, as in the story of King Solomon and the bee, compassion has a great pay off. It is the high school students who seem most grateful.