Peace -- Up to the Highest Height
"Go Fly a Kite -- for Peace" is not the official slogan of Suzanne Marks' big project, but it wouldn't make a bad bumper sticker slogan for the imaginative undertaking that seeks to express the longing of both Israelis and Palestinians for an end to terror and conflict.
One day next spring, the West Los Angeles grandmother says 10,000 kites painted with peace images and words will fly on both sides of the fence between Israel and the West Bank, as a symbol of reconciliation between Arabs and Jews.
Since even the most visionary concept must have a fundraising dinner, the 10,000 Kites project will host one on Dec. 2 at the Skirball Cultural Center, to introduce itself to the public.
One speaker will be Israeli artist Adi Yekutieli, the catalyst for the project, who has staked his career on the power of art to start bridging the chasm between longtime enemies.
After studying and working in California for 14 years, the seventh-generation Israeli returned to his native country in 1995, when the hope for peace was in the air.
The same year he invited two unlikely groups -- the wives of Hamas terrorists and of Jewish settlers -- to a joint workshop on their childbirth experiences and feelings.
He followed up by conducting art classes at the large Balata refugee camp and returned each week for 18 months, until the intifada broke out.
"My experience tells me that you can make peace when daily contacts become routine," said Yekutieli, 46, in a phone call from Israel. "It's what is at a distance that you fear."
The idea of a mass kite flying event was born about six months ago, and Yekutieli enlisted the help of his colleagues at the Association for Art in the Community and Cross-Cultural Dialog, founded in 1998 by Israeli and Arab artists.
Next, he contacted some of his California friends, including David Pine, West Coast regional director of Americans for Peace Now, who introduced the artist to Marks and her husband, Wally.
The Markses invited friends to their home to raise seed money for the project, but as the scope grew, the budget rose to $250,000.
So far, said Yekutieli, some 80 organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories have pledged their cooperation, and he has lined up some 200 professional artists, who will work with adults and children to produce and paint the kites.
Plans call for the kite flyers to gather in some 50 communities on both sides of the wall on the big day. Marks hopes to recruit synagogues for solidarity kite flying events in Los Angeles and other cities on the same day.
As a follow up to the Israeli event, Yekutieli will make a documentary film and, in the future, plans to spread the message through murals, billboards, concerts and an interactive Web site.
"Some people may say that our ideas are too simple, even na?ve, but somehow we have to begin creating opportunities for dialogue and cooperation," Yekutieli said.
Also speaking at the Dec. 2 dinner will be Palestinian artist George Nustas; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish institute of Religion; Rabbi Leonard Beerman of Leo Baeck Temple; the Rev. Dr. George Regas; and Dr. Nazir Khaja, chair of the Islamic Information Center.
For information, contact Suzanne Marks at (310) 476-0362 or visit www.10000kites.org. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Sharansky Comes to the Southland
Natan Sharansky will visit the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles Nov. 29-30 to address a newly formed Likud support organization and to meet with high school students.
Sharansky, who won fame as a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union and now serves as Israel's minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 29, about "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror," which is also the title of his new book.
Sponsoring Sharansky's appearance is the newly revitalized Western States regional chapter of the American Friends of Likud, which plans to bring leading Israeli political figures to California every one or two months. Knesset member Uzi Landau is scheduled for December.
Real estate developer Robert Rechnitz, the new regional president, said it was vital for both leading Israelis and ordinary American Jews to meet face-to-face, "without the filter" of the media or organizational presidents.
Asked whether he anticipated much popular support among generally liberal Los Angeles and West Coast Jews, Rechnitz said that, "There is widespread support in the Orthodox and Israeli communities here, and growing backing in the general community since [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon announced his withdrawal plan from Gaza."
Nurit Ze'evi, a longtime community activist, has been named coordinator of the Western States chapter by Ari Harow, the New York-based national executive director of American Friends of Likud.
Harow said that his organization now has chapters in New York, Chicago and New Orleans, and is launching a chapter in Southern Florida next month. He stressed the need to educate young people to become advocates for Israel, but that by the time they reached college it might already be too late.
Harow and other groups have therefore organized the Israel Advocacy High School Coalition and the Caravan for Democracy, which are sponsoring a Nov. 30 event for students at The Museum of Tolerance.
Admission to Sharansky's Nov. 29 talk is $36 (pre-registration) or $40 (at the door), which includes a copy of the speaker's book. Contributors of $500 per couple will be invited to a private reception with Sharansky, preceding his talk.
For information and reservations, visit www.thelikud.org or call Ze'evi at (310) 449-6929. -- TT