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Perched on top of Jerusalem's Mount Scopus, adjacent to the Mount of Olives, the Brigham Young Mormon University for Near Eastern Studies provides a variety of free concerts and exhibitions against the backdrop of Jerusalem's Old City.
Primarily created as a base for Mormon students spending a semester in Israel (although no pupils have arrived since the September 2000 outbreak of the intifada), the university now devotes its resources to hosting events as a service to the people of Jerusalem.
"Our aim is to provide cultural enjoyment to all Jerusalemites regardless of their religion or nationality," says Neomi Weinstein, the events coordinator at BYU's Jerusalem center, which employs equal numbers of Palestinians and Israelis and discourages political discussion among workers.
The center's main attraction is its concert program, which offers an impressive choice of free performances. The Sunday evening classical music concerts provide a chance to enjoy the works of the great composers performed by artists such as the Jerusalem A Capella Singers, the Dafna String Quartet and Palestinian pianist Bishara Harouni. On other days, concerts range even more widely, with offerings that include Irish music performed by "The Celtic Connection," jazz performed by the "Good Time Jazz" group, classical Arabic music, folk and more.
The majority of concert-goers tend to be Israelis from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. At a recent jazz performance featuring songs from popular musicals, Anglos made up a significant percentage of the near-capacity audience.
"The ethnicity of the audience depends on the concert," explains Weinstein. "If we have an English-speaking group performing there'll be a lot of Anglos, whereas when we hosted a Russian pianist, half the audience were Russian." She acknowledges that the center is eager to attract greater numbers of Palestinian visitors and is looking for ways to advertise in the Palestinian community.
In conjunction with the concert program, an exhibition of 100-year-old Palestinian dresses is currently on show. The colorful gowns feature intricate floral designs which indicate what part of the country each comes from. All the dresses are family heirlooms which were worn on special occasions. Alongside this exhibit, Israeli artist Naomi Ayalon displays embroidered wall hangings of her pioneer father's legends about the plants of Israel.
The center's spacious and minimalist design, created by architect David Resnick to induce feelings of serenity, enhances its attractions. Each room overlooks the Old City, and the soothing sound of a bubbling fountain can be heard throughout the facility. Attending a concert in the auditorium is a particularly tranquil experience, enhanced by an almost overwhelming view of the Old City.
Displayed among the center's gardens are a collection of models portraying Jerusalem throughout the ages, alongside an ancient olive tree imported from the Galilee, a 500-year-old olive press, and a variety of biblical plants.
For tours of the premises, call (02) 626-5621. The Spring Concert Program runs through June 11, and the Summer Concert Program begins July 2 and runs until September 10 (check Music listings in Billboard for schedules). The Palestinian dress and Naomi Ayalon exhibitions run until the beginning of June. For a schedule, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org