Beit Hanassi is alive with the sound of... ‘Silent Night’

You moved our hearts, Peres tells carol-singing Latin Patriarch School choir.

Peres in Christmas 311 (photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Angel )
Peres in Christmas 311
(photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Angel )
Musical performances emanating from the halls of Beit Hanassi are usually patriotic or nostalgic Israeli melodies or popular tunes from different countries when the performers are singing for visiting heads of state. The custom is to sing a couple of songs in Hebrew and then one or two from the visitor’s country.
But what came out of Beit Hanassi on Thursday were Christmas carols performed by a choir of youngsters from the Latin Patriarch School in Nazareth.
The girls in the group were clad in black and wore narrow red scarves over their shoulders. The boys wore black pants and vests, white shirts and red silk ties and they all held up glittering gold stars.
They rehearsed over and over again, before President Shimon Peres entered the room to deliver a Christmas and New Year’s message that will be broadcast to millions of Christians around the world via YouTube.
Christians make up 2% of population on Christmas 2010
The boy who soloed “Silent Night” had a little difficulty with the English and mispronounced one of the lines. He demonstrated greater confidence when he sang it again in Arabic.
The youngsters did a much better job with “Adeste Fideles,” the Latin version of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which they sang with gusto and great aplomb.
They sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in Arabic, but not to the universal tune.
“You sang beautifully,” exclaimed Peres after hearing the songs. “You touched our hearts.”
He told them that Jerusalem was a hold city for believers of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, adding “People think of Jerusalem as the closest place to heaven.”
In his message to the world, Peres urged that people do whatever they can so that children of all faiths can grow up safe, healthy and peaceful. “Peace is the most important thing for all of us,” he said.
The president asked that everyone pray that “all the evil winds in the world will disappear” so that 2011 would be the beginning of a new hope and a new era.”
The greatest weapon, he said, is prayer, and the greatest force is goodwill.
After delivering his message, in which he failed for some reason to utter the words “Merry Christmas,” Peres turned to talk to the youngsters, asking them whether they preferred Hebrew or English.
“Hebrew” they chorused.
He asked them whether they had Christmas trees at home, whether they were decorated and whether there were gifts under them.
He also wanted to know if this was their first visit to Jerusalem.
It wasn’t.
He asked them what they prayed for in their hearts, and like good students, they all replied, “Peace”.
“That’s the most important prayer for all of you,” he responded.
Then he asked about career ambitions. Most of the girls wanted to be doctors. The boys wanted to be pilots.
One of the youngsters’ teachers presented Peres with a citation that lauded him as a tireless worker for peace and coexistence.
Peres asked if the youngsters could sing in Hebrew.
The answer was affirmative, and he asked if they could sing “Hallelujah.”

Peres was thinking of the spirited song that won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel in 1979, but the choir master had something of a more spiritual nature in mind – in fact a hymn of the same name.
The youngsters then donned red Christmas stocking caps with white fur trims and belted out “Jingle Bells” in Arabic.
Next week, Peres will host leaders of all the Christian denominations in Israel at a reception to mark the new Gregorian calendar year.