Jewish and Arab artists unite

The 8th Annual Speaking Art Conference with Jewish and Arab participants begins today on International Tolerance Day.

Dancer 311 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir)
Dancer 311
(photo credit: Yossi Zamir)
70 Jewish and Arab artists, musicians, performers and dancers are taking part in the annual Speaking Arts Conference, which aims to create co-operation, dialog and joint work between Jews and Arabs in the arts. Events, workshops and classes take place at the YMCA Jerusalem, the Beit Masia Theater and Gerard Behar Center, with the opening and closing concert open to the public. The event was initiated by Nadim Shiban of the Jerusalem Foundation and is supported by the Jerusalem Foundation, YMCA Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Intercultural Center.
This year, more than 70% of the participants are from Jerusalem with most of the Arab participants from East Jerusalem. According to co-project manager, Hanan Ohana, two thirds of participants are Jewish and one third Arab owing largely to the fact that modern dance is a new phenomenon in the Arab sector. However, the aim going forward is to have a balance of both. Hanan was part of a committee of five who reviewed over 150 artist’s applications to take part in the conference. This year’s event will feature more co-facilitation and will build on relationships that were formed at last year’s conference and meetings during the year.
The opening concert takes place at Beit Masia Theater, and features for the first time on the same stage, critically acclaimed Jewish performers Achinoam Nini better known as Noa and Gili Dor, with Arab dancer Mona Mashi'l. The highlight of the closing concert at the YMCA auditorium is a performance by the talented Arab singer, Amal Murkus.
Conference participants will engage in group work on music, theater and movement. During the day, Jerusalem's YMCA will host musical workshops led by Sameer Makhoul, with Achinoam Nini and Gili Dor discussing musical dialog between the Arab and Jewish worlds. A portion of the workshop will include a review of the life and contribution of composer Muhammad Abdel Wahab.
The dance group Vertigo will host a workshop on movement in the Gerard Behar Blaustein Civic Center. Tony Award nominee and Bessie Award winner, Donald Byrd, will participate in this seminar as part of his research in exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Byrd, the artistic director of Spectrum Dance The¬ater in Seattle, is in Israel in the capacity of the American Academy in Jerusalem, a project of the Foundation for Jewish Culture. “The fellowship will allow me the opportunity to revisit, return to and build on my personal investigation of one of the most disquieting and deeply saddening human disconnects,” says Byrd. “This time I can do it not from afar, but at the center.”
The theater workshop will be hosted at both the YMCA and at Psik Theater in Beit Masia. The group will be led by Hisham Suleiman, a director, actor and playwright and founder of the Nazareth Fringe Theater, and Shmuel Hadjes, actor and founder of Jerusalem's Psik Theater.
Most of the participants have encountered the other side and the conference is not really about altering stereotypes. Instead it creates a platform for working together on an ongoing basis. For Byrd, “the goal is to learn what allows people to co-exist and what kind of things might facilitate that and encourage engagement”.
The Speaking Arts Conference takes place November 16th – 17th. is a new online international travel portal offering all the latest information on things to do, places to eat and places to stay in Jerusalem.