St. Louis, Israeli circus delights audiences


The Galilee Arches — a combined troupe from the St. Louis Arches and Israel’s Galilee Circus — were reunited for two weeks in St. Louis, much to the delight of the members of the youth circus troupes, and the local audiences lucky enough to catch one of their performances.

A dozen members of the Galilee Arches, a circus troupe made up of Jewish and Arab youth from Northern Israel, traveled to St. Louis in late July, one year after members of the local youth circus group, the St. Louis Arches, traveled to Israel last summer.

At more than a dozen local performances, the Galilee Arches demonstrated their formidable acrobatic, juggling, tumbling — even unicylcling — talents.

Around 300 people lined the auditorium at United Hebrew Congregation on Aug. 7 for a Galilee Arches performance, sponsored by Focus Israel congregations United Hebrew, B’nai Amoona, Temple Israel and Shaare Emeth.

“I thought it was just amazing, not only the performance, but the message that the whole show provided,” said Ken Schwartz, program director for United Hebrew. “To have the Arab kids and the Jewish kids and the Arches here in St. Louis was a great interfaith, cross-cultural experience. It was a terrific message to see them all unified.”

Members of the circuses, which included kids ages 8 through 18, dazzled the crowd with double-decker unicycling, several members juggling while balancing on large spheres, and trampoline jumps over the heads of fellow troupe members.

“Everybody, from young to old, thought this was just fantastic,” said Schwartz.

At the final performance of the Galilee Arches at City Museum in downtown St. Louis, the St. Louis Arches’ home performance space, the troupe had the added benefit of the trapezes suspended from the ceiling and a tight-rope apparatus, offering additional acrobatic opportunities.

Jessica Hentoff, the director of St. Louis’ Circus Day Foundation (of which the St.Louis Arches are the elite performance troupe) told the audience about the significance of the combined troupe.

“You are here, whether you know it or not, witnessing circus history,” Hentoff said. “This is a project we call Peace through Pyramids — a combination of these two youth circus groups who would not normally cross paths, much less do something like this.”

Hentoff raised the close to $40,000 necessary to bring the Galilee Circus to St. Louis, finding support from community organizations, businesses and individuals, including Focus Israel and the Anti-Defamation League (which sponsored a benefit show at the Center of Clayton).

“We couldn’t have done it without the tremendous community support,” Hentoff said.

For Noam Davidavich, a 15-year-old member of the Galilee Circus, the trip was his first time visiting America.

“Actually, this is my first time being outside of Israel,” he said. “It has been really amazing.”

For Davidavich and other members of the circus, one of the major highlights of the trip was the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil in Chicago.

“It’s the best circus in the world,” he said.

Shai Ben Yossef, also 15, said he was very excited to see the members of the St. Louis Arches that he met in Israel last summer.

“We have become good friends, and it is so fun to see them again,” he said. “We really have a lot of fun together.”

Alex Gabliani, a 13-year-old student at Wydown Middle School in Clayton, and member of the Arches for the past five years, was not able to make the trip to Israel last year. But, she said meeting the group from the Galilee Circus has been a transforming experience.

“It’s changed my life, definitely,” she said. “None of them speak perfect, fluent English, but it’s not like they even need to. We communicate through facial expressions and somehow we just understand each other.”

And what was most memorable for Gabliani?

“I think today, our last day together, will be what I’ll remember the most, because this is the end, and where we know each other the most, and have come to understand each other. We’ve all made great friends,” she said.

“It’s upsetting to have to see them go, but what can I do? I guess that’s just life.”

Davidavich said that to make the most of the group’s two weeks together, the members have found ways to expand their time together.

“We have been sleeping maybe four hours a day. We have time but we don’t really want to, because we want to spend all of our time together,” he said. “It’s only two weeks, so we try to be together as much time as we can.”