The YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus…”Walk With Me To Change The  World.”

 by Arlene Stolnitz

     Browsing  through music websites on the internet is one of my favorite preoccupations!  That’s what becomes of a “wanna-be” writer with a focus on the Judaic music world! Recently, I happened upon a unique group that caught my attention.

     The incredible power of music is evident in this wonderful group of young singers who are destined to become the leaders of peace in their communities. They are known as the YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus. Learning about them makes me think it will  be the younger generation who will be on the forefront of “repairing the world”.

      For starters, their home page is written in three languages: English, Hebrew and Arabic!  That says a lot in itself, since the goal of the program is to encourage understanding through song and dialogue among Israeli and Palestinian youth in Jerusalem. Their mission states, “through the co-creation of music and the sharing of stories, the chorus seeks to empower youth in Jerusalem to become leaders in their communities and inspire singers and listeners around the world to work for peace”.

     The singers are young people, high school students, ages 14-19, from East and West Jerusalem, who come together in a common experience and in the process experience understanding, community, and a shared identity. Their music can be described as somewhere in between Pop, Arabic Classical, Hip-Hop and chant. In the words of a description in their album Home, בית بيت, braving violence and fear, the singers, both Israeli and Palestinian alike, support each other in creating a space that is a home for all, and in doing so show what Jerusalem can be.

     The group was established in 2012 by Founder and Director Micah Hendler, an award winning singer and music director  from Yale University who has studied the intersection between music and conflict transformation. Hendler has spent years  developing this model based on his paper ,” I Am a Seed of Peace: Music and Israeli-Arab Peacemaking.” Much of this writing and other papers he has authored, are the basis for the YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus model.  It is an  official program of the Jerusalem International YMCA and the Jerusalem Foundation, an independent community foundation that supports an equitable and open place where people from all walks  of life can feel comfortable.

      The chorus’ current director is Nizar Alkhater an Israeli classical pianist and composer  who brings a wealth of musical experience  to the group, both from his work in  Israel and throughout Europe . He has specialized in organizing projects for youth music education and youth orchestra. In addition to the YMCA Youth Chorus, he directs a  choir for people with physical limitations and special needs. The chorus has about 30 singers with an equal balance between Arab and Jewish membership. The Arab members are roughly 1/3 Christian and 2/3 Muslim with a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds among them. The repertoire is diverse, sung in several languages which include English, Arabic, Hebrew, and more. And the music is a type of East-West musical fusion with a  mix of creative and innovative arrangements. One number is an arrangement of a Sufi chant. Rehearsals are held weekly and run for 3 1/2 hours, mostly in English except for necessary translations for speakers of Arabic and Hebrew.

Here are some of the comments from the singers themselves:
“You get to know the other side… you get to be together, you get to see what its like being with kids different than you,”   Avital,  Israeli singer

“The choir is beautiful and we enjoy it because we are Arabs and Jews together at the same time.”  Ameer, Palestinian singer

“ I only knew Israelis; I had never met any Arabs before I came here. I wasn't sure what I expected, but what I realized was we are all the same.”  Shifra, Israeli singer

“ I live in Israel, I’m an Arab, there’s Jewish people… but I never talked to them… I never knew their opinion. After joining this choir it changed my life. It made me know what they think. It made them know what I think.”  Samia, East  Jerusalem

I urge you to read the  website of the YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus. As with me, you will be blown away. I promise.  You may even buy their CD.