Hillel International was proud to partner with the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and many other organizations on the creation of Start South, a program aimed to inspire connection and offer an opportunity for young Jewish leaders to learn from the rich and resilient people of southern Israel. Participants included 100 students and young adults from around the world and 100 residents of the south. The program culminated in a public festival, co-produced by Israeli and US students, held in Sderot on January 1, 2015. Learn more at startsouth.org.
The following is a reflection from Nicole Horowitz, a student participant from New York University.
Start South was, in its simplest terms, a ten day gathering of young artists from around the world in Southern Israel, culminating in the creation and implementation of the Daroma Arts Festival on the night of Tuesday, December 30th, 2014. Participants came from places as disparate as America, Israel, Argentina and Russia, and participated in all forms of art-making from music to toy design to graffiti art.
And in essence, Start South was simply this; a series of workshops and community engagement activities leading up to a fun-filled and extraordinarily enthusiastic evening of arts and music. However, I’ve tried over and over since returning to The States to fully describe and relay the particular brand of wonder captured and created over the ten days of our experience. For in all of us (all 120 of us plus a team of incredibly dedicated staff, educational leaders, and guest speakers), throughout the program, there seemed to permeate this greater feeling of goodwill and hope and belief in art as something fundamentally important and relevant. This feeling was fed to us by the people in charge of the event, and also by each other, as we grew together in those ten days from highly disparate individuals separated by language, culture and artistic medium, to a holistic and highly engaged community. This community further allowed us to roll out an equally strong message of engagement to the community of Southern Israel; a vote of confidence in their own importance, strength and grace in the light of recent warfare and turmoil. This was something that, from an international point of view, seemed to be lacking upon our arrival in the small town of Sderot.
And through the positivity of this experience, and the magic that I’ve seen it work on myself and those around me, my enthusiasm for the international Hillel community has only been strengthened. I’ve come to see this organization realized as not only a network of individual centers for the creation of community among the Jewish people, but also as a giant network of hands reaching out across town and country, bringing us connection to people across the world. And in cases like these, connection to people we were waiting, unknowingly, to count as friends. Hillel brought this opportunity to me and countless others of the Start South community, and therefore has my eternal gratitude for their hand in creating something so positive and so strong that, I, who consider words to be my artistic medium, can scarcely describe. I can only say that the experience seems to live in all of us, as we return to our regular lives as more engaged and more sympathetic artists and human beings.
Nicole Horowitz is a senior at New York University studying acting, dramatic writing, and artistic identity at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She is also also a free-spirited, self-professed movie buff who lives on sunshine and collaboration.