Tumbling into town: Israeli acrobat makes a debut

With a bright smile on his face, Israeli acrobat Yahel Retter shows off his skills by lifting another performer over his head into the air. Photo courtesy of Omar Rott.

by Louisa Goldman junior, Mary Institute Country Day School

Many modern teens can barely perfect a cartwheel, much less travel to a foreign country to showcase this skill. Yahel Retter, a native Israeli circus performer, is adding both these experiences to his resume, traveling to St. Louis with an international circus exchange for one year.

A past participant in St. Louis’s very own “Peace Through Pyramids” program run by Circus Harmony, Yahel, 17, has had a long standing passion for circus.

“I have been performing for about five years now,” Yahel said, who specializes in the diabolo (a cone shaped ball that is balanced on a string) and the unicycle.

Circus Harmony’s director and founder of “Peace Through Pyramids” Jessica Hentoff is just as thrilled to have Yahel in St. Louis, and feels his presence will encourage the sort of openness and community sentiment that Circus Harmony encourages.

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“At Circus Harmony, we use lessons and skills related to the circus to motivate social change and reiterate our core belief that everyone, no matter their background, is the same,” Hentoff said, “Peace Through Pyramids is a program created to foster connections between our circus and the Galilee Circus in Israel, a Jewish/Arab youth circus.”

The two participating groups alternate the traveling every other year; this past summer, members of Circus Harmony traveled to Israel for two weeks and performed  around the country with the Galilee circus. Yahel, a member of this Galilee troupe has participated in two exchanges with the United States and harbors very similar sentiments regarding the goals of the program.

“Peace Through Pyramids has given me so many new and amazing experiences,” Yahel said. “I left the program with a completely different understanding of the impact circus can have on a community, bringing people together.”

For now, Yahel is focusing much of his time on circus, participating in weekly performances at the City Museum, attending almost daily practices with the troupe, and spending what is left of his free time perfecting his “Diabolo” act. Needless to say, Yahel is very dedicated to this art.

But there is still a very important social aspect to this experience which Yahel sees as just as valuable. Unlike the normal exchange program which lasts the duration of two weeks, Yahel will be staying in the United States for a whole year, performing and learning with Circus Harmony. And who better to house this student than a past participant in the program and friend of Yahel’s, St. Louis’s Ari Maayan. His mother, Cheryl Maayan, is head of school at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.

“I stayed with Yahel in Israel this past summer and had a really great time getting to know him and his family. I just hope to return the favor by opening up my home,” said Ari, a 14 year-old freshman at Crossroads College Preparatory School.  “We were really able to connect over our mutual love for circus.”

It is bonds such as these the “Peace Through Pyramids” strives to create and maintain, connecting people throughout the world no matter religion or nationality. And Yahel has been yearning to reconnect these bonds ever since the exchange ended last summer.

“When I heard I was going to the United States to participate in this exchange, I was ecstatic,” Yahel said, “I just couldn’t wait to see my old friends.”

Outside of circus, however, Yahel has enjoyed experiencing true American culture.

“St. Louis is just amazing, and I love performing in the insanely cool space of the City Museum,” Yahel said,  “I loved seeing it last time I was in the U.S. and it definitely has not changed.”

Although Yahel said that his Judaism has not directly affected his experience with the circus, its values of community and togetherness have most certainly had a great impact on the program.

“Our entire goal is for people to realize what they can do together, rather than what separates them apart,” Hentoff said, “This exchange is most certainly highlighting what we can all do together.”

For more information on Yahel and Circus Harmony, go to circusharmony.org or visit them at the City Museum every weekend in the Circus ring. For more information on Peace Through Pyramids, visit circusharmony.org/peace-through-pyramids.