Walking through the doors of Yuval Art School for the first time, you can not help but be overwhelmed with childlike excitement. The open spaces are adorned with mismatched wall treatments and art pieces that naturally make visitors want to explore, laugh, and create with whatever medium they can get their hands on. Yuval’s Director, Irit Iffert, and Co-Director, Jael Kalisher, make it clear that this spark of creativity is not a phenomenon limited to first introductions – this is the steady rhythm of life at Yuval.
“It’s a little hard to start teaching a 3-year-old drums, even though we had that.” – Kalisher
“We’ve had a little kid with a pacifier come and sit at the drums, not even reaching the kick, and he was amazing!” – Iffert
As we sit down to talk about the art school’s conception and vision for Yuval, Iffert attempts to recall and translate, from memory, a verse of scripture into English.
“Yuval was actually the first musician in the Bible. Genesis 4… remember the verse?” Iffert asks Kalisher. “I think it’s…20 something?” Kalisher replies as we all share a laugh over their forgetfulness. “I’m thinking 23,” Iffert says.
When you run a school with over 170 students, in two different cities, these kind of details are just the kind to easily get lost amongst the constant flow of innovation. Yet, as both artists and leaders, these women are passionate about such details and Kalisher dutifully darts into her office in search of an exact reference. Iffert continues on, “Also, one of our verses that really flows from here and we hold on to is Jeremiah 17:7-8. A man who trusts in the Lord, is like a tree and his roots are going into the yuval, a stream of water or river of water, I think is the translation in English.” As Kalisher reemerges she has an exact reference on her tongue and a large rock, boasting Yuval’s logo painted on top, in her hand. The reference was Genesis 4:21. The two women continue to harmoniously share the heart behind Yuval’s unique purpose and vision.
Iffert describes Yuval Art School as a place where “People can come, no matter what age and they can put their roots into the living water of Yeshua and really grow and bear fruits with the talents and gifts for His glory. That’s the picture. Yuval as the first musician and as a symbol in Jeremiah, that is the main connection. And you see them in our logo.”
After completing her studies at Israel’s prestigious Rimon Music School, Iffert prayed and reflected on what God was calling her to next. While discussing the vision that God had given her, that of an art school run by believers in the land, with friend, and co-creative Alex Atlas, it was revealed that Atlas had been dreaming of the same vision.
“Until now, all these pastors, they were building the body of Yeshua and surviving, pioneering, building a base of Bible and teaching. I think now, it’s the time to take it to another level of creativity,” Iffert says.
With their goal in sight, Atlas and Iffert set out to raise support. First, Atlas and Iffert were connected with Wayne and Ann Hilsden of King of Kings. After connecting with King of Kings, Atlas and Iffert were able to speak with the leaders of both HaChotam Publishing and Jerusalem Assembly – House of Redemption. All three of these unique organizations were excited about Yuval and agreed to sit on the school’s board of directors. A few years later, The Messianic Jewish Alliance of Israel would also come on the board, rounding out the powerful roster of ministries backing Yuval. Though these organizations are all different, they each shared the unifying vision of what Yuval was created to accomplish.
On September 6, 2010, backed by their unified board of directors, Yuval Art School opened its doors for its first open house. That first open house exceeded expectations and there were 110 students registered. The team immediately got to work and by October of that same year, Yuval Art School officially began hosting classes.
“The main vision of Yuval is to train up the next generation, and you do that by discipling them. Obviously teaching them the different instruments and installing in them the humility and the fact that none of it is about us, it’s about God. About utilizing the gifts that He has given us to glorify His name.” – Kalisher
Yuval Art School is a place that does more than just teach music and arts to those living in Israel, they also serve as a home away from home for their students of all ages, religious backgrounds and such a diverse demographic that over 30 different nationalities are represented in their student body. This is somewhat of a rarity in Israel, as the country has very few youthfully spirited, Messiah-centered communities for students to become invested in, growing both individually and as part of a team.
The dynamic duo excitedly tells of how their students come from backgrounds ranging from Messianic believers and Arab Christians to religious Jews and Sudanese refugees. When asked if there is an age requirement one must meet to sign up for classes, the co-directors explain that there is no formal age range and that they have had the pleasure of working with students from three to 76 years old.
“I think it’s a lot about unity here. That [being unified], is one of the titles I would give to Yuval. Because you have the different ages together, in the classes, hanging out in the same lobby, drinking together coffee, joining each other’s conversations,” Iffert says.
Everyone is invited to participate in the many different classes offered and all are welcomed openly into the Yuval family. This is not an offer of acceptance that is made lightly, though. Kalisher emphasizes how seriously students take their beautifully unique community connection at Yuval. Pointing to a sign hanging on her office door, Kalisher says, “someone made that sign and they were all upset with it. We asked, why are you upset with it? [They said] ‘Because it says like and it’s not like. Yuval is a family.’” Iffert and Kalisher both laughed, sharing the same glimmer in their eyes reminiscent of a proud mother telling stories about her children.
With two separate campuses, the main one being in Jerusalem and a satellite campus in Tel Aviv, the three full-time staff members of Yuval stretch to accommodate the intense need for these types of classes across the country. Alex Atlas, the school’s third full-time staff member, and Music Director spends most of his time outside the Jerusalem campus, tending to the many other pressing needs of Yuval’s growing area of influence.
“When he [Atlas] comes here, he teaches the entire time he’s here. He just comes a bit earlier and we pray together and talk about what needs to be done and any updates on decision making,” Kalisher explains. Though Atlas is able to currently oversee Yuval’s Tel Aviv campus, there is clearly need for more staff in order to sustain the growth of the school’s expanding reach “If we see that He [The Lord] is providing for one person now. We believe for another person in Tel Aviv and to do the media and you know, we believe that He is doing something and Yuval is growing and along the growth He will provide workers. I mean He has to, right? He has to,” Iffert says through her joyfully infectious laughter.
Yuval Art School offers their classes at a discounted rate of 50 percent less than the true value of what the classes cost. This discounted rate does not include the additional cost of instruments, supplies, and other necessary equipment. For these classes, Yuval students pay the discounted rate and the school works to make up the other half of the value with resources from gracious donors. Iffert adds that “If we go by the true cost, nobody can afford to actually study here.”
“Regular community centers are subsidized by the government, but since we’re a place run by believers, we are not subsidized by the government and we still have to give a competitive price, otherwise it’s too expensive,’ Kalisher explains.
As a private faith-based organization, Yuval Art School receives no subsidization from the Israeli Ministry of Education nor the Ministry of Culture, whereas Israel’s secular public schools and community centers do receive such subsidization for their programs.
This creates a special challenge for students of Yuval as well as for staff. As Israel has a higher birth rate than most developed nations, families are growing rapidly and it is difficult to find the means to afford weekly classes for four or five children. From the position of the staff members, problems arise when there are simply too few resources to offer aid in the form of scholarships and stipends for supply costs.
Iffert, Kalisher, and Atlas are ever faithful and forging ahead, determined to do their best to fill in wherever The Lord is highlighting a need.
“Yuval is so in need around the country at the congregations, to not just teach, you know, the students once a week, but also [to] do special seminars,” Iffert says. This means that in addition to the 17 different classes that Yuval has been facilitating on a weekly basis for the past six years, they also host specialized seminars, congregational worship workshops, holiday showcases, master classes, sound production intensives, songwriting sessions and an annual year-end recital.
“The main focus we have with these recitals is to train the students how to be on stage and feel what it’s like to have all these eyes on you and know how to redirect this focus to God. You can’t learn that just by speaking about it. You have to experience that. “ – Kalisher
In the always bustling and budding Yuval Art School, students are reminded of Psalm 33. “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.”
They learn not only new levels of expertise in their skills but also how to display those skills to truly glorify their Creator.
As we begin wrapping up our afternoon together, Irit passionately returns to the heart of Yuval.
“Worship is not playing an instrument, worship is not singing a song, worship is not dancing a dance. Those are expressions of worship, but the worship is the attitude of the heart.”
“Be humble, serve God, love Him.” – Iffert
This article originally appeared on FIRM and is reposted with permission.