Israeli diplomats, celebrities join kids with disabilities for ‘Upside Down’ exhibit

The Foreign Ministry, together with Israeli singers, Olympians, and politicians, opened a special photo exhibition to mark Israel’s Disability Awareness Month and the International Day of Disabled Persons this week.

The Upside Down exhibition — or “Hafuch” in Hebrew — features famous Israelis doing handstands or posing next to their more nimble colleagues alongside children with disabilities at iconic sites in Israel.

The Foreign Ministry teamed up with Alumot Or (Rays of Light), the Center for Jewish Impact, and Haredim LaKetsev to launch the exhibition. The project is the brainchild of Ambassador Dan Oryan, the director of the ministry’s Balkan Department and a certified gymnastics coach.

“This exhibition was designed to heighten the awareness of the public at large by telling the story of the unique partnership between the art world and some truly amazing young people facing the challenges of their disability with both courage and humor,” Oryan said in his speech at the opening event on Monday.

Israeli singers Gila Almagor, Ronny Someck, Tal Sondak, Leah Shaked, Gadi Rabinovich, Meskie Shibru, Kobi Oshrat, Oshrit Banai, and Roni Nadler all took part in the opening event, as did windsurfer Nimrod Mashiach and Paralympian Nadav Levi.

Sondak, Shaked, and Oshrat took the stage to sing with children with disabilities, who were led by Ofra Cohen of Music4life, which gives children with special needs opportunities to learn and play music at conservatories across Israel.

The exhibition, curated by photographer Shlomi Amsalem, will be taken overseas to Israeli embassies throughout the month of December. Israeli NGOs working to advocate for the rights of disabled persons and for better integration into society with also be highlighted at the international exhibitions.

“If it is possible to stand on our hands together,” said Oryan, “then we can do almost anything together. That’s the exhibition’s motto, which puts children with disabilities at center stage and in the center of the photographs.”

Ambassador Dan Oryan (left) joins Energy Minister Karine Elharrar (center) and Israeli capoeira champion Mickey Hayat (right), and children with special needs in a photo for the Foreign Minstry’s Upside Down exhibition. (courtesy)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid delivered the keynote address at the opening event.

“The photographs in the exhibition, and especially the people who created them, say to us: anything is possible,” he said. “When we are together, then for sure anything is possible. It is possible to overcome difficulties, it is possible to defeat almost any limitation. I don’t know how to stand on my hands, but I am proud to inaugurate this exhibition here in the Foreign Ministry, and am touched that you came from across Israel and the world. Because of you, anything is possible.”

“The Upside Down exhibition is one of the most ethical things we’ve ever done,” tweeted Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz. “The joy on the faces of everyone who took part in it is indescribable.”

“We have created one language that is understood by everyone, and connects everyone together,” said Mickey Hayat, CEO of Haredim LeKetzev, which strives to create unity in Israeli society through capoeira.

Ambassador Dan Oryan (right) joins Israeli capoeira champion Mickey Hayat (left) and Israelis with disabilities for the Foreign Minstry’s Upside Down exhibition. (courtesy)

As Israel’s envoy to North Macedonia, Oryan initiated a series of events around children with disabilities. He invited children to help cook at Israel’s Independence Day celebration, and flew in special needs youth to participate in the March of Life to commemorate Macedonian Jews who died in the Holocaust.

“Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs attaches great importance to the issues of inclusion and securing the rights of people with disabilities,” Oryan said.

Other celebrities and public figures in the photos include the Croatian, Albanian, Kosovar, Serbian and Bosnian envoys to Israel; Abu Ghosh regional council head Salim Jaber; Jerusalem Santa Claus Issa Anis Kassissieh; and singer/actor Idan Amedi.

They were joined by Olympic gymnasts Linoy Ashram, Neta Rivkin, Artyom Dolgopyat, Nicole Zeligman, and Alex Shatilov.

In 2019, Oryan initiated a photography project called Jumping Together, in which he was filmed mid-jump in front of famous sites alongside young people with special needs.

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