In light of what is currently happening, mainly in the South of Israel, my innermost thoughts are transported back to a special mosaic work that took place during the winter and spring of 2007, at the height of the missile attacks that rocked the town of Sederot.
It seems like yesterday, though; I was invited to orchestrate the mosaic-making of an 8-meter long bench, together with pupils from 7th to 9th grades. I volunteered in a unique program for junior high school students that was part of a national campaign for active citizenship. These teenagers were students learning at the Ulpana and Amit Mekif Dati junior high schools in Sederot.
The previous year, they had built the actual bench, using recycled materials and concrete. What was left was to adorn it.
Detail of the bench
Smile of the Universe was the name given to the school bench that they built together under my guidance. As a result of our work, a garbage dump in a school courtyard was transformed into a pleasant area for play and relaxation.
The purpose of active citizenship is to “push” kids into taking action – encouraging them to look for ways to make the world a better place, more suited to their own needs. By contributing to their well-being, the children become an active part of the process, making changes by themselves instead of waiting for others to take action for them.
The bench that we built had multiple elements: a planet, a sun, moon and stars, an island with palm trees, a mountain with waterfall, a big flower and butterfly. The bench also included a sentence we chose from the book of Isaiah (Chapter 66): “For all these things hath My hand made.” This phrase, which means that the elements on the bench are the creation of God, also highlighted the fact that this work was made with the kids' creative hands.
The project could not have taken place without the generous donations of people and managers who were willing to give me, free of charge, a variety of colored tiles for the project. We received tiles from generous donors of ceramic companies in central Israel, including Hezi Bank, Negev Ceramics Odafim, Top Psifas and Sharoni Ceramics.
The mosaic-making was a real challenge for all of us because of the war-like situation, the incessant sirens, the difficult on-site conditions, the need for patience and cooperation while the children worked at creating something they had never done before.
The inauguration ceremony
The completed bench
I will never forget the smiles of these youngsters when I would arrive from Tel Aviv on the bench premises. My weekly presence was very welcomed. They loved the chat and the laughter, the breaking of the tiles, the work in progress and the fragments’ assemblage to create something figurative.
It felt right. Not only was it educational, but there was a lot of happiness, the emotion that was a part of being the doers. This mosaic bench would become a place of comfort in order to take a "break" from...insanity. We could not have chosen a better name for the bench: “Smile of the Universe” − Isn’t this a global message of hope?