In the series of outstanding women involved in community relations we have presented in this blog, I have chosen this time to tell of a woman who has a most interesting story.

Sigal Magen began her career in the high-tech industry and over the years began to write books mainly for children. She relates that it all began 14 years ago when she met a group of 70 Arab and Jewish children in the local library in the town of Ramla. She said to them: “I was sitting on my balcony listening to the chirping of birds and wondered if I understood their language what they would be saying? I asked the children to pretend they were the birds and write what they thought the birds would be talking about and what message they would give us about bringing peace to this area. Despite my doubts at first, the children rose to the challenge. They wrote of hope and joy mixed with fear as well as optimism. All this provided a basis for a series of books I wrote called “Na’ama and Na’im” the names of a Jewish girl and an Arab boy.”

Sigal recalls a special experience at the launching of the first book when she saw the joy and pride on the faces of the children and their families, Jewish and Arab, some of whom wore traditional clothing, some with their heads covered and others in the hijab. “At that moment I realized the extent of this project.”

Daniela, the librarian in Ramla, arranged for a Jewish and an Arab cook to visit the kindergarten children gathered there, and together with the children baked a “peace cake” which later constituted an illustrated version in the series. It tells that after this cake was baked and photographed something awful happened – the cake jumped from the tray and fell on the floor, which brought reactions from the children relating to the efforts to joyfully bring peace to the area but the sad reality proves to be more complicated and so easily shattered.

Another book in the series “Naama, Na’im and the Wall”, tells of a wall separating the houses of the two children so that they were unable to meet. The children were asked to write their solution to this problem. The book tells how an orange that fell on the other side served as a way of contact. Another book related the story of a  Na’im’s kite that became wedged in a tree and how Na’ama helped to rescue it. When Sigal conceived the plot she had visions of children flying “kites of peace”. This conception was ill-fated when kites carrying flares flew from the Gaza Strip setting ablaze the fields of Israeli farmers and the surrounding bushes in the south of the country. Sigal, forever optimistic, hopes that when a settlement is reached, this book, like the others in the series will be translated into Arabic.

The books in the series were illustrated by Dudi Shamai, produced by “Rimonim” publishers with financial assistance of Gilad Rabinowitz, Director of the Intelligence Heritage Organization.

Another of Sigal’s projects is the work she created:  “Let’s paint the world” which appeared in English, was created by her visits to venues around Israel and in other countries, where she copied illustrations for her books onto her iPad. Yet another project initiated by Sigal was the connection of an Arab school in Ramla and a Jewish school in nearby Rishon Hatzion. The pupils learned the names of colors in English in her book and then were taught the words in Arabic and Hebrew. This and other projects were based on Sigal’s belief that the age of school children enabled educators to inculcate an understanding of “others” without prejudices obtained at a later age.

Sigal initiated a three-day summer camp for Jewish and Arab high school children at which the participants worked on projects for intercultural relations. The experiment was successful in that the fact that they were working together created projects which could be implemented in their schools.

מוסא אבו סריס ואורן ירושלמי השפים

I hope that this description of an outstanding woman working towards understanding between communities in Israel provides a short insight to the many such projects being carried out here.