About a dozen Jewish and Muslim high school students participating in a martial arts workshop in Los Angeles got a pleasant surprise Sunday – Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix showed up to watch with his girlfriend and renowned DJ, Allie Teilz.
Only two days earlier, Deadline.com reported that Phoenix will be starring in Woody Allen’s newest film, details of which are being kept under wraps. According to Variety.com, actress Emma Stone will star alongside Phoenix. Shooting is expected to begin in July.
Although Phoenix politely declined an interview, he and Teilz stayed for the duration of the workshop, over two hours, and he even walked around handing out bottled water to the small group of participants and observers, introducing himself and chatting with the people sitting next to him and Teilz.
In recent months, the Daily Mail has chronicled Phoenix’s karate habit, snapping photos of him leaving practice adorned in traditional martial arts garb. Sunday, he was dressed down, sporting a black hat, white shirt, and black jeans. The event was held at the Traditional Karate Academy on West Pico Boulevard, which doubles as “The Happy Minyan” synagogue on Shabbat and holidays.
The idea of bringing together Jewish and Muslim students around karate was endorsed by the United Nations Sport for Development and Peace, which aims to bridge cultural, religious, and ethnic groups through sports. UN official and conflict resolution veteran Gay Rosenblum-Kumaropened even kicked off the event via Skype, thanking the students for participating in the workshop.
The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding supported the workshop as well.
Soolmaz Abooali (left) leading students in a basic karate punching technique.
Created in 2012 and named after Joaquin Phoenix’s late brother, River, the center, as its name suggests, works with groups in trying to promote peaceful conflict resolution.
Soolmaz Abooali—a PhD student in conflict resolution at George Mason University—ran the event, alternating between guiding dialogues and teaching some basic karate moves.
The idea was born when Abooali met Adam Rokah, a 17-year-old junior at Shalhevet High School, at a national karate competition. Abooali, a Muslim, and Rokah, a Jew, thought it would be neat to create a multi-religious karate workshop, something that has been done many times with team sports like basketball and soccer.
Sitting in a circle, the students discussed who they are, what they hope to be, and what they most want out of life. Then, Abooali taught them a trust-building exercise, introduced some basic karate punching and kicking techniques, and even paired up students, with one wearing a blindfold while the other guided them away from obstacles like the wall, beams, and other flying limbs.
Afterwards, students stood in line as Rokah called their name. Receiving a certificate of completion, they met the observers, including Phoenix, who shook their hands and congratulated them before taking some group photos.
Joaquin Phoenix (black hat) and Allie Teilz (right) congratulate Omar Badr, a 9th grade Muslim student at West Ranch High School in Los Angeles.