The night before the St. Louis-based Circus Harmony troupe left for Israel in 2014, the deadly conflict between Israel and Gaza broke out. Over 2,000 people in Gaza and Palestinians and Israelis were killed between July and August of that year in the conflict.
The circus, which is based out of Florissant and performs at the City Museum, traveled to Israel anyway, thinking the conflict would not become as brutal as it was — they were to be located a few hours north of the fighting as it were.
The group was to workshop and perform with the Jewish/Arab Galilee Circus, in a collaboration titled “Peace Through Pyramids.”
“And then they shut the airports down,” said Jessica Hentoff, artistic and executive director of Circus Harmony. “We were stranded for an extra week in Israel. Much to the delight of the children and not to the parents.”
Maya Zuckerman, an American member of the St. Louis Arches, and Hala Asadi, an Israeli member of the Galilee Circus, were both in Israel at that time. They’ve now been friends for two years.
“Everyone was worried about how the trip would go and where we would perform,” Zuckerman said. “Where we were, it was peaceful and I would forget a war was going on in until I went home and saw the news.”
Asadi, who lives in one of the Arab villages where the collaboration rehearsed, said that she wasn’t worried about Jewish, American and Arab people getting along during that time.
“I knew that they would be friendly because they are Circus people,” Asadi said.
Hentoff said that the response to shelter and provide for the group when they were stuck in Israel was overwhelming — with offers for performances and food exceeding what the group needed.
When the airports reopened, the group returned to St. Louis.
“When we got back four days later, Ferguson exploded,” Hentoff said. “… In my neighborhood, National Guards were at the entrance to every street. In Israel, at dusk, there was a military presence at the entrance to every village, including the one where we rehearsed. Some of the shows canceled because groups were afraid to travel.”
After seeing the protests in Ferguson continue, Hentoff ventured to start a “Peace Through Pyramids” with local children — from Ferguson and from Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School, which is located in West County. This fall, Circus Harmony will start two more partnerships with local children.
Hentoff referred to such partnerships as “candles of light in the darkness.”
“Here, there, wherever there is conflict…there are also people who focus on what they can create together,” Hentoff said.
Right now, the Galilee Circus is visiting St. Louis, so Zuckerman and Asadi are reunited once more. Next week, you’ll be able to see “Peace Through Pyramids” perform at Ballpark Village and at the Ferguson Community Center, as well as other performances at City Museum. More information here.
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