Nora Feinstein is a Program Associate at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a global organization committed to igniting the passion and unleashing the power in young people to create positive change in the Jewish community and beyond.
There is a region of Israel known as “Darom Adom,”or the Red South. In this area near the Gaza Strip, the color red has come to be associated with "Tzeva Adom," the alert system used to warn civilians of incoming missile or rocket attacks.
The tumultuous events of this past summer, and the years leading up to it have obscured another, more beautiful reason why this area is associated with the color red. Israel’s national flower is the calanit, or the red anemone. In the winter, fields of these red wildflowers blanket the landscape of the northern Negev, giving the south a vibrant red hue.
In late December, just as these flowers were beginning to blossom, more than 120 young entrepreneurs and creative types from Israel and around the world traveled to the region to participate in a 10-day program called Start South. The program, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, was a partnership between nearly 20 local and global organizations, including Hillel International, ROI Community, Ayalim Association, Kol Haot, Kibbutz Movement, Sderot Municipality and the Eshkol, Hof Ashkelon and Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Councils.
It was designed so that participants could learn about and experience life in southern Israel while joining with local residents to create a celebration of the people, communities and cultural landscape there. For a week, participants engaged with the community in Sderot and the surrounding area. Through mifgashim (cultural exchanges), they heard the stories of local students and residents. They attended programs with civic leaders and artists and enjoyed concerts featuring southern musicians.
The resilience of the people of the South inspired these talented and thoughtful young leaders as they trained with master community artists, prepared art workshops to take into local classrooms and community centers, toured the area around Sderot, took part in city beautification projects, experienced Shabbat together and formed a global community of peers.
The impact of their presence and work cannot be overstated. As head of the education department for the Eshkol Regional Council said, “Your timing is perfect. Now we are seeing all of the post-trauma playing out in the children. We need you today, next week, next month. What you are doing is amazing.”
As a staff member, I too witnessed the magic: I watched as visionaries from Buenos Aires and Boston, dreamers from San Antonio and St. Petersburg, healers from Tel Aviv and Toronto, and creators from the state of Georgia in the US and the country of Georgia in Europe, formed an incredible, instant family. They stilt-walked, drummed and serenaded their way into each other’s hearts.
Their energy, enthusiasm and endurance were seemingly limitless—trust me, my room was right next to their common area. They came home from full days making art and spent their nights bonding over shared musical tastes and engrossed in deep, wide-ranging conversations. Their passion, compassion and boundless talent fueled our week together.
The marquee event of Start South was the Daroma Festival, a locally sourced carnival held on the grounds of Sapir College, designed and built by the Start South participants. Thousands of people attended from across Israel, and dozens of groups from abroad traveled to Sderot for the festival, including delegations from the World Union of Jewish Students, AIPAC, ICC, Birthright Excel, REALITY and more.
Start South’s artists guided guests through drum circles, carnival art, puppet-making and more. During the evening, famous Israeli artists took the stage for a concert. They included Sarit Hadad, Hadag Nachash and Barry Sacharoff. Among this star-powered lineup was our very own Start South band. They gave the performance of a lifetime as photos and videos celebrating the Southern landscape and people, created by our Start South film crew, were screened for everyone to enjoy.
The success of both Start South and the Daroma Festival was a direct reflection of how they were built—as a true collaboration between the people of Southern Israel, local and global organizations, and of course young Jews from Israel and around the world. We developed shared goals, an educational framework and a narrative arc for the program. But most importantly, we put the participants and the people in the local communities in the driver’s seat, allowing them to build this experience together from the ground up.
In these challenging times, it is especially important that we create opportunities to come together, to work together, to build bridges together, to laugh together and even to cry together. It is the camaraderie of young visionaries from around the world creating a common language and shared experience that offers a revitalizing vision of energy and hope.
On the last day of the program, before returning back to our homes and campuses, to the jobs, studies and responsibilities that would take us in a million different directions, we took a moment to appreciate what traveling south taught us. Engaging with the southern communities inspired us to explore how creating art can build and strengthen community.
Since the program ended, we have heard from both participants and residents in the communities about how this experience impacted them. As one wrote, “It is difficult to pinpoint the parts of the program that impacted me the most … I feel that now that I have this understanding of life in Sderot, I can communicate my experience to my peers and community members at home and share this narrative, which is often overlooked or unmentioned.”
Here on our blog, you can read a few reflections from Start South participants. They demonstrate what happens when we recognize art as a universal language and utilize its powers to communicate identity, healing, connection and celebration. I hope you enjoy a taste of how these individuals blossomed during their time in southern Israel, and what can be achieved when the Jewish people come together in the spirit of understanding.
Read two reflections from Start South participants!