Christmas Carols and coexistence in Jerusalem
I can’t remember the last time I heard Christmas Carols sung live – not in the 18 years that I’ve lived in Israel and before that probably only on TV and radio for years. But last night, Christmas Eve, we attended the YMCA’s annual Christmas Carols Concert. The official reason: our 14-year-old son, Aviv, was performing in the choir.
Not just any choir, though. Aviv has joined a unique new Jewish-Arab singing group, the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, which is sponsored by the YMCA and is the brainchild of Micah Hendler, who recently graduated from Yale where he was a member of the university’s fabled Whiffenpoofs a cappella choir.
Hendler’s idea was to create a space where young people from both West and East Jerusalem could get to know each other while also receiving music education and performance opportunities on a very high level. The 32 students in the Chorus, from sixth through twelfth grade, meet weekly for three hours; each session is divided into singing and “dialogue” portions. Aviv reports that he loves both.
Hendler first began thinking about how music could be used to move beyond conflict in the Middle East when he attended the Seed of Peace summer camp and dialogue program as a teenager in 2004. He later presented a paper on “I am a Seed of Peace: Music and Israeli-Arab Peacemaking” at several academic conferences; the paper also appeared in the Yale Review of International Studies.
The metaphor of a choir of young voices from different and often antagonistic backgrounds coming together in harmony is almost a cliché, but so far it seems to be working. The Chorus sounded very professional (admittedly I am neither objective nor an a cappella critic) during its debut public performance in front of an audience of more than 600 last night. The group performed two songs they have been working on since the fall and joined in a Christmas Carol sing-along with the main choir (shown behind them in the video above).
Hendler has big plans for the Chorus – more songs, more concerts and a music video distributed by Sam Tsui, a bona fide YouTube star (who happens to be a Yale friend of Hendler’s). He’s also working them hard: members are not allowed to miss rehearsals and full payment (from the parents) is required up front.
Hendler says that he believes that “music can create community and that musical communities can change lives.” I hope he’s right. In the meantime, we got a chance to catch up on some almost forgotten Christmas Carols.