Circles of song

Circles of song Unite in Jerusalem draws a diverse collection of people to the First Station.

Circle of song  (photo credit: KAYLA STEINBERG)
Circle of song
(photo credit: KAYLA STEINBERG)
Unite in Jerusalem was more than a collection of music-loving hippies; it brought together hundreds of diverse individuals at the First Station on Tuesday night as they joined in vibrant musical circles.
At “Unite” events, people sing and dance in concentric circles, surrounding the musicians in the center.
The larger organization, Unite in Babylon, aspires to synchronize these musical circles in various locations around the world biannually. It was founded to reunite all people despite language differences and remediate the problem created at the Tower of Babel – the biblical tale about God splintering the world into different languages – through music.
The event opened with the delicate ring of Tibetan bowls before transitioning into a melodic song featuring a female singer and a guitar. People sat in large circles surrounding the musicians and their instruments.
The language of the first song was almost indiscernible, with one audience member, Nathaniel Mapstone, saying, “I just hear syllables.”
The crowd swayed to the rhythms, one father swung his daughter in circles and the musicians nodded their heads to the beat of the music.
The second song brought people to their feet as they danced to a popular Yemenite folk song. One man shook his egg shaker (and everything else) as if there would be no tomorrow, and several singers smiled at the crowd. A young boy sat atop his father’s shoulders, tapping on his purple water bottle to the beat.
Candle lighting accompanied the next song, which was the Shabbat prayer “Boi B’shalom,” and the circles erupted in song and dance around the tiny flames.
People of all ages attended the event, from babies cradled in mothers’ arms to elderly people. Additionally, various religions were represented in the circles, with Arabs and Jews and many others coming together in song.
Foreign Ministry diplomat Elie Antebi, who was in attendance, commented, “One of the most diversified [groups of people]... even an ultra-Orthodox person!” He, along with so many others, clapped along as the musicians energetically sang another prayer.
Songs performed that night included “Mi Ha’ish” (Who is the Man) about a man asking for peace, Psalm 23, and Song for Jerusalem, which is from the biblical Song of Songs. Peace was a theme of the night, with crowd members dancing together, nationalities fused into one. Unite in Jerusalem aspired to connect attendees through music as part of its mission.
As Antebi said, watching people dancing and singing together, “Ask for peace and go after it.”
Sage smoke wafted into the crowd as they sat on patterned carpets. Yet very few people were sitting for long – the vast majority of participants were on their feet, dancing and singing along to the music.
The words did not matter; language did not matter. All that mattered was the beat. Several attendees swirled their wrists to the beat while others raised their arms in the air.
Baggy pants and skirts abounded as people freely surrendered themselves to the music.
Many also chose to go barefoot, at one with the Earth.
Each member of the crowd reacted differently to the music. Some meditated, others joyously jumped up and down. It created an atmosphere that felt both united and separate, allowing for every person to be an individual within the collective group.
Instruments featured at the event included banjos, drums, cymbals, saxophones and flutes. Together, they brought out something new and spiritual in the music.
The songs mostly consisted of only one or two verses that the singers repeated over and over, along with many musical interludes. This allowed audience members who did not initially know the songs to be able to join in at the end. Most of the songs were in Hebrew, but some were in other languages such as English.
An interesting choice of music was the song “Nes Gadol Haya Po,” traditionally sung during Hanukka. In other parts of the world, the song ends with “sham” instead of “po,” yet because the miracles happened in Israel, they are considered to be “here” not “there.”
The event itself achieved a miracle, too – uniting people from all walks of life in joyous musical bliss.
As the night wore on, the energy did not fade. Jerusalem resident Adele Biton, a regular at “Unite” events, was dancing her heart out all through the evening.
“It’s the first time [the event is] in Jerusalem; I used to go in Tel Aviv,” she said.
She enjoys everything about the event, from the good vibes to the kind people. “The dancing, the singing, everything!” While “Unite” regulars like Biton participated in the song and dance, first-timers also loved the “Unite” experience.
College student Adam Snyder, who is interning in Israel for the summer, enjoyed the overwhelming sense of unity at the event.
Snyder commented, “I love that the people have come together in joyous song and dance as we put aside our differences and enjoy the beauty that is Israel.”