Deep in the heart of Israel, a city perched on the Mediterranean receives immigrants of all kinds, from Africa to Eurasia. The diversity within the city is immense but assimilating immigrant refugees into the greater culture of Israel presents many challenges. Recently the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and FST joined forces to bring a very special program to the children of Kiryat Yam. "We are all in this together, for the children" was the running theme of the WRITE A PLAY trip to Kiryat Yam, Israel last month. The FST WRITE A PLAY team spent one week working in the Kiryat Yam school system and with community members, reaching over 500 children. The team consisted of Lead Teaching Artist and Young Playwrights Festival Coordinator Adam Ratner, veteran actor and FST company member Stephen Hope and FST Associate Director Kate Alexander.
The WRITE A PLAY program, in its twenty-first year, has impacted children throughout Florida and beyond, inspiring students to open their minds, explore their imaginations, and then, write it down. During the course of a school year, professional artists through the WRITE A PLAY arts in education initiative encourages students in kindergarten through 12th grade to write their own original plays and submit them to FST's annual Young Playwrights Festival.
The WRITE A PLAY team joined with The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee to bring a means of self-expression, creative thinking and imagination through playwriting to the city of Kiryat Yam. The FST team spent the week teaching many underprivileged and new immigrants from Ethiopia, Russia, Kurdistan and Uzbekistan, among other countries. As principal and coordinator Osnat Shoef said, "Our children carry two backpacks to school: one with books and one with problems. We must heal the one with problems in order for them to learn." Director of Education Nili Elda said of WRITE A PLAY, "You are giving our children dreams."
Howard Tevlowitz, Executive Director of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee County said, "in Sarasota, under the auspices of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, a Living Bridge Partnership links the people and community organizations in Sarasota-Manatee with those in Kiryat Yam, a seaside city near Haifa. The residents of Kiryat Yam struggle with economic and assimilation issues largely due to the high number of citizens who have immigrated from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The partnership is about building relationships between the two communities via the exchange of ideas and joint cooperation and participation in different projects. Committees from Sarasota-Manatee and Kiryat Yam are charged with considering projects to meet these goals. The committees, chaired locally by Alan Ades, approved a grant to bring Florida Studio Theatre's WRITE A PLAY project to Kiryat Yam. The Federation is proud to have partnered on this project which had a profound impact on the children and entire community of Kiryat Yam. We look forward to building on the success of FST's visit to Kiryat Yam."
Alexander said of her experiences working with the teachers and students in Kiryat Yam, "we have been to many communities and countries. What made Kiryat Yam special was the commitment of the entire community to its children. From Mayor Sisso to committee chair Sharon Yanai, everyone engaged with our team. Principal Ronit Haseem sat in on the classes, chair Sharon played 'Zoom' with the children. We did not work with the children in an isolated fashion and present a report to their leaders later. They were in the trenches with us, laughing, crying, and feeling what the children were experiencing. When little quiet Chaket jumped up and joined an improvisation, playing a sassy fairy, her principal Shoshi broke out in emotion, shaking her head as if to say, 'This is Chaket?' When the students broke out in belly laughter, their principal said, 'We need to see them laugh! This is good!' At night we broke bread with them, the mayor, the educators, the committee - shared dinner and discussed philosophy. 'This isn't just theatre' Sharon said. 'This is about humanity.' This is why this program is and will be such a success here. There was no division between community leaders and children. And it was never clearer than when we left Kiryat Yam. It was raining. The Director of Education for the city pointed to the sky, now with raindrops dropping like bullets. 'look!' She lamented. 'The sky is crying because you are leaving.' I grabbed her hand. We are all in this together. For the children."