JUDITH SISCHY & LYNN LEON-ROSS
Photos & text: Lydia Aisenberg
Childhood friends from Newcastle, England, Judith Sischy and Lynn Leon Ross were among the many visitors to the recently opened HAMSIN-50 exhibition at the Givat Haviva Collaborative Art Center & Peace Gallery.
The friends had visited the Givat Haviva campus in the past, but never together. Lynn, who emigrated to Israel in 2010 and lives in Hofit, a rural community in central Israel, actually had an exhibtion of her very powerful art work - entitled Identities - shown at the Givat Haviva gallery in 1995 after which the exhibition moved to Haifa for another successful showing.
Lynn’s 1995 solo exhibition of drawings and photographs was officially opened at Givat Haviva by the then British Ambassador Andrew Burns who was not only very impressed with the British born artists creations but also at the time made very positive comments about Givat Haviva’s achievements and aspirations for the future. He also presented a number of books to the Givat Haviva Peace Library.
“Wow, that’s going back some time but it was a wonderful experience,” a reminiscing Lynn told Anat Lidror, Director of the Givat Haviva Collaborative Art Center and Peace Gallery, who took time out from her busy schedule to explain to Lynn and Judith about many of the works of art by Jewish and Arab artists on display in the HAMSIN-50 exhibition.
The exhibition halls were crowded with a large group of Israeli Arab and Jewish teens who attend schools in the catchment area of the Megiddo Regional Council (representing 13 Jewish communities) and the Ma’ale Iron Regional Council (representing 5 Arab communities), two of the participant municipal and regional partnerships created through an innovative and highly successful Givat Haviva project that is slowly, but surely, incorporating Israeli Arab and Jewish municipalities situated in close proximity one to the other, but never the twain met as the saying goes … until Givat Haviva stepped into the void building bridges of mutual respect, cooperation and eventual partnerships that is.
Judith Sischy, who has lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, for many years, retired a few years ago from her post as Chief Executive of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools and has been closely involved in national initiatives, served on many Government bodies including the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority and was honored with an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for educational and voluntary services.
Although still very involved in educational and voluntary organizations, Judith is also nowadays working as a tutor of adult literacy in disadvantaged areas of Edinburgh and since 2007 involved with Windows for Peace, an organization founded 25 years ago by Israeli Rutie Atzmon and based in Tel Aviv.
Windows for Peace encourages young Israelis and Palestinians to write about their experiences and exchange their views through the printed and social media and publish a joint annual magazine.
“I was very moved by the simple way they shared their daily experiences and through this to begin to better understand how ‘the other side’ live,” explained Judith. “Windows created the contact and the written commentary penned by 14 year-olds, who call themselves young journalists, eventually leading to the magazine and as the youngsters remained in the program until they were 18 it gradually became the 4-year program it is today,” she said.
“I was so inspired by what I saw, heard and of course by Ruti herself, that I suggested a group of the Israeli Jewish and Arab teenagers together with Palestinian peers come for a summer visit to Edinburgh where they could physically meet and discuss difficult issues in a safe and secure environment.”
In 2008 and 2010 Judith, assisted by the late Brenda Beecham and the Manchester based Windows for Peace U.K., was able to secure the funding for 21 teens, 7 from each group, together with 3 facilitators, a translator and Ruti Atzmon by approaching various Jewish and other educational charities who were moved by the project.
“Each summer school ended with a special open day in Edinburgh and both times we were astounded by the scores of people from the across the interfaith communities who came, including priests, ministers, rabbis & imams.
Last December Ruti Atzmon and colleague addressed a meeting of 40 people in Edinburgh and this has once more spurred interest in the possibility of inviting another group of 14 year-olds to come to Scotland next year.
“Many of Windows for Peace youngsters have remained in contact with each other over the years and in adulthood, have become peace activists,” commented Judy as she stood in the Givat Haviva Collaborative Art Center watching the young Jewish and Arab visitors for the day taking in the exhibition of Israeli Jewish and Arab artists, making notes, discussing the art works, commenting on what each saw in the same work of art and discovering that although they have their very many differences, the areas of commonality between them are far more than they had realized before their schools joined the Givat Haviva created program of encounters through their local municipalities.
“This is amazing,” Judith said with a broad smile.
“This exhibition and the visit to Givat Haviva, especially seeing all these young Jewish and Arab teens interacting here in the Art Center, has been the best thing to see and experience before my return home,” concluded Judith.
“I left it far too long before coming back again to visit Givat Haviva but be assured, I have always admired the work of the organization and being here today, experiencing the buzz of activity around this exceptional exhibition by these young Jewish and Arab Israelis, is remarkable,” added Lynn Leon-Ross.