Creative Arts Program in Israel Helps At-Risk Kids Thrive

February 6, 2013


Fifth grader “Sammy” never imagined he’d be part of any band besides the five brothers and the extended Ethiopian family who share his tiny, cramped apartment in South Tel Aviv.

At his elementary school, Sammy is just one of many students from struggling homes—recent immigrants from the Caucuses, single-parent families, parents with chronic illnesses or addictions, victims of second—or third-generation poverty, and more recently, migrant workers.

Financial, geographic, and cultural barriers often keep kids like Sammy — from peripheral communities, weak immigrant groups, and disadvantaged homes — from being able to access positive, creative forms of expression or (arts-related) extra-curricular activities. In Israel’s poorest neighborhoods, these kids lack social and educational frameworks to fill their hours after school; consequently, they can lag in confidence and cultural awareness as they grow.

JDC’s Creative Communities initiative, which utilizes the arts and music to narrow cultural gaps in Israeli society, offers young people from disadvantaged backgrounds important new avenues for self-expression. It enabled Sammy’s school to introduce the Sulamot (Hebrew for ‘scales’) music program to the student body and establish a school orchestra for the first time last year.

Creative Communities’ various arts options, developed in partnership with the Haifa City Museum, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and governmental and municipal partners, include visual arts, photography, drama groups, and school orchestras. These are all aimed at giving at-risk children and youth exposure to—and training in—the arts.

At first, when Sammy’s school started forming their orchestra, he was not interested in joining at all. But his father convinced him that is was worth his while, insisting that if other immigrant kids could succeed in the program then he would, too. So Sammy decided to give it a try.

One year later, Sammy is thrilled to play the violin and be a part of an ensemble—and a new community. “I’ve learned about instruments and about music. It’s fun to be part of the orchestra!”

At each of the program’s participating schools, every child receives his or her own instrument and musical training, and becomes part of a musical group. Throughout their participation, children are invited to attend Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concerts—a rare opportunity for most of them. At the end of the year, the kids share their experience with their parents and the public, either through performance or an exhibition. Following completion of the program, excelling participants are offered scholarships to the local music conservatory to continue their studies.

“It is exciting to perform in front of an audience. I am so happy when we get compliments after our shows,” Sammy says.

On a personal level, the arts programs instill essential life-skills such as patience, discipline, perseverance, the ability to listen, collaboration, and responsibility. Additionally, they help to develop creativity, and build self-esteem, self-confidence and pride among children who are not often noticed. Program evaluation outcomes of Sulamot indicate that after only a year of participation, kids are happier, less violent, more successful at school, and have improved relationships with their families.

Sammy recognizes changes in himself that are surprising to hear from a boy his age. “Now I am better behaved,” he admits.

On a societal level, increased exposure to the arts helps bridge cultural gaps in Israeli society. Thus far, JDC’s Creative Communities programs have already reached over 1,000 6- to 18-year-olds from Jewish, Arab, and Bedouin families in disadvantaged communities across Israel. But this is only the beginning. The pilot’s success has inspired plans for the program’s expansion into additional parts of the country, all in an effort to hear hundreds of Israel’s kids echo Sammy’s newfound sense of accomplishment:

“I have something to be proud of,” Sammy says.

*The Creative Communities program operates in partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, Ministry of Education, Haifa City Museum, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, First International Bank of Israel, Matan (Israel’s United Way), local authorities, Israeli philanthropic and non-profit organizations, and private donors and foundations.

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