Hitting the right note

Bereaved fathers find a musical outlet in the One Family Men's Choir.

'My oldest son, Yisrael, died of cancer at the age of 15 and my middle son, Ophir, died in a terrorist attack when he was in the army. I was devastated twice, and I still mourn for them every day of my life," says Dina Kitt, who runs the One Family Fund's main offices in Jerusalem. The organization provides support for families who have lost loved ones in military action or in a terrorist attack, and is more than just a daytime job for Kitt. Her latest project, the One Family Men's Choir, comprises 12 men who have each lost a child. On May 4, the choir will perform in Tel Aviv at a memorial ceremony organized by the Tel Aviv Municipality for victims of acts of hostility. "When something so terrible happens to you, you can choose to be a victim or you can try and get on with your life, and do some good for others," she explains. "Inside I am broken, but I smile and put my energy - I have boundless energy - into One Family. I can't bring my sons back but at least I can try to help others." One expression of her support came in the formation of a choir for the bereaved. "My husband, Omer, is very musical. He played the piano and has a wonderful voice, but after our tragedies he stopped singing. Now he's a mainstay of the choir." It is not by chance that the One Family Fund's first musical endeavor is an all-male one. "You know what men are like," Kitt muses. "They are not like women, they don't express their emotions so easily. So the music helps them get things out, to unload some of their grief which otherwise would probably stay bottled up inside them. That certainly wouldn't do them any good." The choir began about six months ago, after more than a little persuasion from Kitt. "I called up lots of fathers about the choir. Many of them said things like 'I can't sing, I've got no vocal talents.' But I don't give up easily. I can be a real nudnikit [pest], although I do know when to let up. "Lack of singing prowess isn't necessarily a problem," continues Kitt. "We weren't looking to make the choir members into professional singers. We didn't hold auditions, and it's not that important if they don't always hit the note on the nail. The main thing is to provide them with a means of expression." There are other added values on offer too. "The choir also acts as a mutual support group. The men meet once a week, here at the One Family head office [on Rehov Rahel Imeinu], every Sunday at 6:30 p.m. For me it is very gratifying to see them persevere, despite their busy lives. Many of them still work but they always find time for the rehearsals." Itzik Ben-Yishai didn't need too much pestering to join the choir. "I had always been interested in singing, and I was in a boys choir when I was a kid. I was happy to cooperate with Dina when she called me about the fathers choir." Ben-Yishai's daughter Shoshi was killed seven years ago in a terrorist attack on a bus in French Hill. "She was 16 years old. I am sure she would have been happy to see me in the choir," says Ben-Yishai, who echoes Kitt's sentiments about the positive effects of the choir. "We never lose our sense of loss, but we can give others - and ourselves - the will to carry on and give them some joy. "Before Pessah we performed at a gathering of bereaved parents in Haifa. You could see the joy on their faces as we sang. That means everything to us. We never stop mourning, but music can give us strength to keep on going," he says. "It's not a regular choir," says Kitt. "You get a sense of strength when you hear the men sing - even if they are not exactly all opera singers. And they don't sing mournful stuff. The idea is not to moan and look on the down side of life." Shmuel Landau says he feels the benefits of being in the choir on a variety of levels. "I never thought I would be in a choir. I'm not particularly gifted, and Dina had to work quite hard to get me to agree to become part of the choir. But I'm very glad I joined," he says. "We support each other, the atmosphere between us is wonderful and we all gain strength from the rehearsals and the performances we give." Landau's son Ronnen was killed seven years ago, at the age of 17, in a terrorist attack near his home in Givat Ze'ev. "Ronnen was more into computers than music, but I think he would be quite amused at the thought of me being in a choir. I was very depressed before I joined the choir, and I still miss Ronen every day. But it is an outlet for us all. Music does have healing powers." On May 4 the choir will perform in Tel Aviv at a memorial ceremony for victims of acts of hostility organized by the Tel Aviv Municipality.