Shari Rudavsky: “A Jew, Christian and Muslim walk into an art studio…”
April 29th the Center for Interfaith Cooperation joined the Jewish Community Relations Council to host a showcase of a remarkable project for healing. Shari Rudavsky of the Indianapolis Star reports.
“A Jew, Christian and Muslim walk into an art studio…”
Indianapolis Star May 1 2015
Piece by piece, the mosaic came together — for peace.
Next week, two out of the three panels of the Tree of Life mosaic will travel to Israel where they will join the third panel. Together they will hang in a new maternity wing of the Galilee Medical Center in northern Israel.
The hospital prides itself on serving a mix of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze patients in a country where people of different faiths do not often come together.
And the mosaic represents a shared endeavor that transcends religion, politics or differences of any sort. On one day, 30 girls from an Arab School visited the hospital in Nahariya to help tile; the next day, 30 girls from a local Orthodox Jewish school took their place.
It all began in Indianapolis two years ago when artist Joani Rothenberg started an art therapy program for cancer patients, survivors and their family and friends at St. Vincent Hospital.
There, Rothenberg and others noticed a strange phenomenon: The people who participated found common ground no matter what their backgrounds.
“It’s great to see we can bring people together from all faiths, all backgrounds, all religions,” said Fuad Hammoudeh, executive director of St. Vincent Cancer Care, who was born a Muslim and is now Christian. “Unfortunately, cancer does that.”
When the head of the Galilee Medical Center visited St. Vincent about a year ago, he admired the first mosaic the art therapy program produced and asked for one for his own hospital.
Rothenberg, who lived in Israel for a decade, agreed. A grant from the Glick Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis helped get the project started.
From the start Rothenberg, thought a community mosaic would be a perfect fit for the hospital.
“It’s a place in Israel where you see diversity, acceptance and multiculturalism, and I feel that peace is possible,” she said.
In the St. Vincent art studio, Jews, Christians and Muslims worked alongside one another to complete one of the panels. Rothenberg shepherded the second panel to Jewish communities across the Midwest as part of Partnership2Gether, which pairs American communities with Israeli ones. People of all ages, including about 500 Indianapolis preschoolers from the Jewish Community Center’s Early Childhood Education program, took part.
But the work held special meaning for those cancer patients for whom the art studio became a place where they could shed the mantle of being a person with a serious disease. Many had had no previous art experience and did not think of themselves as having an artistic side. One tile later, and they were hooked.
“I dropped in and never left,” said Judith James, a Northside resident who had breast cancer. “It was a support group without being a support group.”
The mosaic work inspired one participant, Fatema Amro, to create her own design, a portrait of her parents, who died three years ago within weeks of one another in Lebanon. At the time, Amro was undergoing treatment for breast cancer in Indianapolis.
After Amro discovered the mosaic project about a year and a half ago, she embarked on her own memorial to her deceased parents, Abed and Souad.
“Every time I work on it, I feel memories come back to me,” she said, “and I feel they’re really proud of me.”
Amro hopes to take the mosaic with her on her next trip to Lebanon and hang it in a mosque that her father helped to build.
While she has never been to Israel, Amro did not let Middle East politics dissuade her from participating in the Israel mosaic project.
“I work on it because of the group, because I really like my friends here,” she said.
Mosaics work as an easy metaphor for people going through a trauma, tragedy or illness, said Risé Friedman, who started in the art therapy studio after going through treatment for breast cancer.
“What are mosaics? Broken pieces of glass,” the Northeastside resident said. “What happens to your life when you are given a diagnosis of cancer? It’s just like a mosaic — joining all of those broken fragments to make something beautiful.”
Call Star reporter Shari Rudavsky at (317) 444-6354. Follow her on Twitter: @srudavsky.