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Harmony found as local youth circus troupe embraces similar Jewish-Arab group

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 2, 2012 - The Galilee Circus, a Jewish-Arab circus youth troupe, happily find themselves in the circus ring with new and old friends from the St. Louis Flying Arches, a youth circus troupe from the city's only social circus school, Circus Harmony.

So far, the troupes have performed at places such as a cramped, narrow sidewalk in front of Ben and Jerry’s in the Delmar Loop, the City Museum’s Circus Ring, and during intermission at the nationally known UniverSOUL’s circus performance in Florissant.

The Israeli troupe’s two-week-long visit is part of a Circus Harmony's larger "Peace Through Pyramids" project.

‘Nothing compares’

Jessica Hentoff, executive and artistic director for Circus Harmony, founded the Flying Arches in 1989. While she has more than 20 years of experience with the troupe, she said nothing compares with watching the two youth troupes from different parts of the world come together because of one common bond: circus.

Circus Harmony brings people of different socio-economic backgrounds, neighborhoods, races and religions who would not normally interact, Hentoff said. 

"While they are learning to flip, fly and juggle, (they) also learn important life skills like focus, persistence and teamwork," she said. 

But melding people of different backgrounds is taken to an entirely different level when the Galilee Circus makes its way to St. Louis to perform with the Flying Arches.

‘Breaking down our own barriers’

Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, founder of the Galilee Foundation, the umbrella group of the Galilee Circus, said watching Jewish and Arab children of the Galilee Circus building relationships with each other is just as inspiring as seeing the two youth troupes together.

He said the contact with the American circus troupe helped break down the Jewish-Arab troupe’s own internal cultural barriers.

“The children in our circus, Jewish and Arabs, don’t speak the same language. They don’t go to school together and they don’t live in the same communities. They have the history of distance … ” he said. “Having to be a part of something which is larger than themselves helps overcome our own barriers.”

The two troupes have been performing together on and off since Hentoff and the Flying Arches first traveled to Israel in 2007 to perform, Hentoff said.

"When they got off the plane (in 2007), (the Arches) couldn't tell who was Arab and who was Jewish. And really, that was the point. It doesn't matter," she said. "I've been doing social circus for over 20 years, and taking them to Israel was the most extraordinary bridge I was ever fortunate enough to be a part in building.”

This year was a reunion for most of the troupes’ members, except for those new to circus.

‘Saying goodbye’

This year also included some tough goodbyes. Two longtime members of the Flying Arches, Keaton Hentoff-Killian and Meghan Clark, had their last show Thursday with the Arches at the City Museum. Hentoff-Killian, who’s been with the Flying Arches since he was 4 years old, is headed to Montreal, Canada, to attend National Circus School this fall. Meghan Clark, a contortionist for the troupe, is headed to college in London.

While having members graduate each year is common, Jessica Hentoff said this year is a little more difficult to wrap her head around because Keaton is her son.

Longtime friends, family and former Flying Arches members came to see Clark and Hentoff-Killian off at the two’s farewell show Thursday at the City Museum’s Circus Ring. A farewell show does not include performances typically seen in a circus act. Rather, friends and family members perform parodies and comedic circus acts in honor of those graduating.

Roey Schafran, of Israel, spoke on behalf of the Galilee Circus at the tribute show Thursday. He said he would miss performing with his friend but that he’s excited to see him progress in the professional world of circus. 

Schafran has been one of Hentoff-Killian’s closest friends from the Galilee Circus since the two first met and shared a bus seat in 2007. He said the fact that they both loved circus brought them together.

"Circus is like a nonverbal language. You can understand everybody. Everybody knows the same tricks. Everybody knows how it works. You trust each other," he said. 

The two troupes fly together this week at these locations:

Aug. 2 -- 7:30 p.m. at Trout Lodge -- Lakeside Show
Aug. 3 -- 6:30 p.m. at Hammer's Food and Fun (free w/ Buffet Purchase)
Aug. 4 --  1 p.m. at the 3rd Floor Circus Ring at City Museum (free w/ Museum admission)
Aug. 4 --  3 p.m. at the 3rd Floor Circus Ring at City Museum (free w/ Museum admission)

Lauren Leone is a Beacon intern.