Youth Choirs Come Together for a Concerted Peace Effort


The Jerusalem Youth Chorus made its Philadelphia debut at the Kimmel Center.

Songs in Hebrew, Arabic and English filled the halls of the Kimmel Center on June 28 in a show of interfaith and intercultural unity as the Jerusalem Youth Chorus joined 70 members of the Keystone State Boychoir and 45 members of the Pennsylvania Girlchoir in a two-hour performance that also featured a performance by the Al-Bustan Takht Ensemble.
The joint concert was the final stop for the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, comprised of 30 Israeli and Palestinian high schoolers from Jerusalem, as it wrapped up its first tour in America in a performance called “A Song for Peace EVERYWHERE” at the center’s Perelman Theater.
The sense of musical camaraderie extended well beyond the groups’ time onstage. For 45 minutes after the show, members from all three singing groups came together in the lobby as guests were leaving the auditorium and started singing.
“It’s like the kids didn’t want it to end,” said Leanne Clancy, a volunteer for the Boychoir, adding it was one of the most “phenomenal” parts of the night.
The performance was originally titled “A Song for Peace in the Middle East,” but was changed in response to the recent tragedy in Charleston, S.C., said Steven M. Fisher, Boychoir associate music director and managing director of Commonwealth Youthchoirs. The performance was dedicated to the victims.
Understanding the environment where Jerusalem Youth Chorus members come from is not lost on members of the local choral groups, Clancy said. They go beyond just learning the words of the songs, she explained, and spend time understanding what the song means and putting themselves in someone else’s shoes.
“Whenever you meet people from other places who have other cultures and differences, it broadens your own worldview,” Clancy said. “It teaches you about other places. You find the things that tie you together and make you the same.”
Clancy’s 14-year-old son was one of the members of the Boychoir who performed. She said he was very much looking forward to the performance and the opportunity to meet the Israeli/Palestinian group and learn about — and from — them.
The Jerusalem Youth Chorus led a dialogue Monday night with members from the choirs about race, particularly in America.
“They’re agents of change,” Fisher said. “They’re forcing us to look harder at our own problems over race.”
Fisher tried to bring the choirs to Israel last year, but was unable to because of the conflict and violence, he said. There was a school in Ramallah that seemed interested, but ultimately said no because the choirs wanted to sing a Hebrew song of peace. He said the movement to not cooperate with Israel was strong in the Palestinian community.
The Palestinian teens in the choir, then, are quite revolutionary.
“The fact that these Palestinian teens are coming to rehearsal once a week and really defying what many in their community want is pretty remarkable,” he said.
He reached out to Jerusalem Youth Chorus founder and director Micah Hendler to bring the group here instead. This was the group’s first visit to Philadelphia.
During the performance, he announced plans for the local high school students to visit Israel in December 2016.
Ambassadors from both Pennsylvania choirs have been showing their counterparts around Philadelphia, visiting staples such as the Liberty Bell and the Plymouth Meeting mall for a good, old-fashioned shopping trip.
Clancy’s favorite part of the event was the performance of the song “Adinu.” Mainly led by the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, the groups started by singing the song all together, and in the middle branched off “into their own thing,” she recalled. Their voices joined back together reaching the end of the song, which was the theme for the whole night.
“The purpose of this concert all along has been to bring kids of different backgrounds all together,” she said. “These kids” in the Jerusalem Youth Chorus “find a way to share their own experiences and worries and fears and still sing together.”
In the end, the performance was not  about the singing, she said, but rather the ways people can unite despite what sets them apart. She said the members of JYC are leaders by example through the way they come together in the face of their own conflicts.
Furthering the message of togetherness, a Jewish member of the chorus hosted an iftar — the traditional breaking of the daily fast during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan — on Monday night, in addition to the dialogue event.
The dialogue was an effective way to bring that theme home, especially for the local choir members attending. Because of the recent events in Charleston, she said, it has become all the more important to talk about race in a way that is “honest and effective and brings more peace.”
“I hope people can learn and see a group of teenagers in one of the most conflicted areas of the world and see a bunch of teens who can find a way to come together to work through their frustrations and fear and anger and still be productive together,” she said. “In this case, it’s through music, but perhaps that attitude can be copied in other areas.”
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