By Rolene Marks
There is something that is quite phenomenal when women bond. Women can connect in a way that is unique and on a different level to their male counterparts. So, imagine the possibilities of what could happen when you bring together women from very divergent backgrounds!
One Man’s Vision
Israel is a country of simplicities and complexities and gorgeous diversity. This is a country that has gathered in exiles from over 80 different countries and has rich and diverse minority communities making up roughly 24% of the population and contrary to what many of her detractors would have you believe, they enjoy full and equal rights as citizens with representation in the Knesset (parliament).
But Israel, being a country filled with paradox, means that sometimes there are chasms between the cultures and creative ways to break down barriers is exactly what is needed.
David Moatty, Director of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) Afula Community Centre had a vision. What would happen if he brought together women from different cultural backgrounds to bond over something creative – painting?
The result was “The Olive Tree”.
The Olive tree has long been a symbol of peace. Its roots (pun very much intended!) stretch all the way to biblical times and are an iconic image for the Abrahamic religions. In Judaism, the olive tree and its oil, symbolises justice and mercy, and according to the Christian gospels, olives are symbols of sacrifice and love. In the Quran (the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God), it is written that the olive tree is the “world’s axis and the symbol of the universal humanity of the Prophet’.
Bonds of Friendship
They came from a variety of different backgrounds and ages with a common interest – to create art and perhaps make a friend or two. Women from all cultural and religious groups – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Circassian and originally from places as exotic and diverse as Romania, Lithuania, Argentina, the Caucasian mountains and with a local flavour that included Nazareth, Umm-Al Fahad and Tiberius. Thirty-five women, aged between 17 and 80, painted glorious portraits of olive trees and weaved bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime.
The project is sponsored by a host of European WIZO Federations that include France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Through their mutual love for art, the women have fostered an environment of tolerance and sharing. Olive trees make no distinction between cultures and art is a universal language and this is evident in the exquisite portraits painted by the women. Each picture tells a story and transports you through their personal journeys.
Mali Schneiderman from Kfar Saba was seriously wounded in a car accident ten years earlier. Painting has helped her to heal and regain both her physical and mental health.
Hana Rozenstein, a Holocaust survivor, has painted her “Tree of Peace” in gratitude to the beautiful country she calls home. Sharing her story with the Arab women in the group has brought her a tremendous sense of joy, and Shuzanna Abu-Masoud, the sixth child in a religious, Muslim family, dedicates her painting to her mother who adores the multicultural contact between Jews and Muslims.
It is not just the paintings and their talented artists that tell a story. This project with its roots firmly grounded in tolerance and altruism, has found itself warmly received all over the world – even in the halls of the United Nations, where it has been showcased both in Geneva and Vienna.
Mention of the UN is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of every Israeli as the institution seems to have a disproportionate amount of focus on the Jewish State but the Olive Tree project is living proof that accusations of practices of Apartheid and trumped up resolutions are figments of the imagination. The real work is done on the ground between Israel’s citizens. This is where peace is negotiated.
The Olive Tree project has recently been renamed “Shutafot le Derech” and the journey that it has inspired has not just been a tour of the world – helping to tell Israel’s stories of diversity and tolerance that are so seldom heard but do exist – but also healing.
It is here amongst the women, amongst the unbreakable bonds of friendship, where the roots of peace are firmly planted.