Singing in unison

Jewish and Arab teens spend a week in the US learning about music and each other.

Jewish and Arab teens spend a week in the US learning about music and each other (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jewish and Arab teens spend a week in the US learning about music and each other
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last week, a diverse collection of Jerusalemites returned from a week together in the US: Bat El and Brahan, two Ethiopian Israeli teens from Talpiot; Oday and Maya, Israeli Arab teen siblings from Beit Hanina; and Shaked, a native Israeli Jew from Arnona. The group attended a week-long youth summit where they bonded with other teenagers from around the US and Israel over their mutual love of music.
Now that they’re back in Israel, they’re eager to bring their experiences to a diverse group of youth in the capital through the first-ever Jerusalem chapter of Music in Common (MiC).
“I wanted to participate in the Music in Common Youth Summit due to the present political situation and my desire to get to know the other side,” explains Bat El. “Everything I knew about Arabs I learned from TV. After this experience I can say that I truly have a deeper understanding of the other side, as well as the other major religions of the world. During my journey I felt a connection to different types of people that more than likely I would never have had.
This is an experience that will stay with me forever and will help me with the work I will do with Music in Common in Jerusalem.”
Maya says: “I wanted to participate because I love singing and music. My experience was important because I learned a lot of things about other people and their religions. I know that we can make the world a better place when we write songs and work together as a team. It’s all about team work.”
Maya’s brother Oday says he just wanted to have fun and meet new people. But once he got to the summit, he realized the importance of getting to know “the other” and now wants to make a difference in how Jews and Palestinians see each other.
Shaked was the solo singer of the group performance at Guthrie Hall in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at the end of the summit in front of a sold-out crowd.
“I wanted to go to the summit because I wanted to learn about different people and different religions,” he explains. “I hope to keep in touch with the people I met there, even if they are different than me and we don’t believe in the same things. I hope to share my experiences with a lot of people, especially my friends who didn’t want me to go in light of the war that was going on when I left. I will tell them that it was amazing and I am really happy I went because no matter what our political opinion or religion, we are all human.”
Music in Common was created in 2005, three years after the kidnapping and brutal murder of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter. Todd Mack, a close friend of Pearl’s who made music with him, grew to love Pearl’s spirit as a musician, writer and producer who always used music to bring communities together. Mack organized an informal backyard jam in honor of his friend and band mate. Fueled by a resonating belief in the power of music to bridge divides between people, that jam has grown into an internationally touring nonprofit organization with innovative communitybuilding programs that serve as a call to action in communities around the world. To date, Music in Common has served thousands of people in more than 200 communities across the US, the Middle East and the Far East and operates multiple programs locally, nationally and internationally.
MiC opened a branch in Israel five years ago, which operates in the Negev with Beduin and Jewish high school students and in the Galilee with Jewish and Arab Israelis under the direction of Laurie Orenstein.
Students from schools of different backgrounds are paired with each other for a two-day workshop in which eight students from each school are facilitated by industry music and film professionals to get to know each other and compose a song, both music and lyrics.
In March, the program came to Jerusalem and paired up with the Hebrew University High School (“Leyada”) and Ein Rafa Branco Weiss high schools.
The workshop is held in English to ensure balance and equality for all the students, and each school provides a teacher to accompany their students.
As the Jerusalem coordinator of MiC, I was moved watching the Jewish and Arab teens begin to connect with each other through the music, combining the Arab beat of the darbuka with Muhammad and the piano and guitars of the Leyada students was exciting. The group was split between teens who wanted to compose music and others who wanted to write lyrics. The title of their song is “Today Tomorrow, Bukra Hayom.” It focuses on the notion of self-realization and self-actualization. In other words, know who you are and what you can do.
Shachar, a quiet teen from Leyada, ended up providing most of the lyrics with help from her classmates and the students from Ein Rafa. The music facilitators played their ukuleles during group exercises, helping to break the ice and solidify the group.
One of the things the teens enjoyed most about the program was being toured around by students from the hosting school. After two days of creating a most eclectic Western-Eastern musical rap song, the participants shared their feelings. Even though their schools had partnered before, this experience was especially unique and meaningful. None of them could believe that after only two days, they could compose and record a song, which is now featured on YouTube.
During the last month and the recent Gaza conflict, many Jerusalem schools that had seemed marginally curious about the program began contacting the chapter with heightened interest.
This fall, the Hartman Boys and Girls schools, the Anglican International School, Ankori High School, the Sur Bahir school for girls, the A-Tur Community Center and the Chantal Karei Center in Talpiot all plan to participate in the program.
The Anglican School, located in the center of Jerusalem, has Arab and international students with many Jewish teachers. The director is an Irish clergyman who saw the Friends Forever program change the face of Ireland, bringing together thousands of Catholic and Protestant teens.
In November, in addition to the various teen workshops, Mack will be joining MiC to participate in a Friends of Danny concert at the American Center in Jerusalem. This concert, along with thousands around the world, will take place in honor of Daniel Pearl and will be open to the public.
In times like these, we look for sparks of light – individuals and organizations that make a difference by helping to focus on our similarities instead of our differences. The creative energies of teens is a force to be reckoned with. • For more information about Music in Common, visit or email tracey@
The writer is the Jerusalem coordinator for Music in Common and founder of Sobar, an alcohol-free bar for teens and young adults. She is also the founder and director of the Malkat Shva cultural empowerment program for Ethiopian teens in Jerusalem.