Over 30 Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teenagers came together on the New Haven Green Tuesday to paint a 48-foot sign welcoming refugees.
The teens are part of the Jerusalem Peacebuilders, an interfaith organization that promotes peace across religions, cultures, and nationalities.
The goal for the project was to create a visual message of tolerance and respect.
The teens worked side-by-side with local residents and city officials painting, socializing, and listening to music. But they each had a clear, and somewhat unique, vision of what the billboard represents. Malak, 16, is an American Muslim from Jerusalem.
“It’s really important to make other people feel included, and let people know that New Haven and America is about including,” she said. “This is what America is built upon - refugees upon refugees. So us not accepting them is just going against our principles and what built this country.”
The billboard design was inspired by a photograph taken by the New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Tyler Hicks of a young Turkish boy arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in October 2015.
For Eliran, a 15-year-old from Israel, the welcoming sign is personal. His parents are Moroccan Jews who were forced to migrate to Israel.
“I just want to help, especially kids,” Eliran said. “Kids have a special place in my heart, but I want to help refugees to find a warm house everywhere. And I think the U.S. is a good start. If we can be friends here, we can be friends in Israel and Palestine. So this is our example for the whole world - that we can live together.”
The billboard is displayed along I-95 southbound in West Haven, off exit 42.
Jesus Garzon contributed to this story.