Singing in the Key of Peace

Update: On June 24, the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, founded and directed by Micah Hendler ’07, performed with Sidwell Friends’ Chamber Chorus, and the Children’s Chorus of Washington. You can read a Washington Post interview with Micah here, and a New York Times feature on the chorus here. View a video of the group here.

What do trust, empathy, friendship, and peace sound like? On Wednesday, June 24, in the Robert L. Smith Meeting Room, the answer rang out as three choruses joined together in a demonstration of the powerful things that music can accomplish.

The YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus, the Children’s Chorus of Washington, and the Sidwell Friends Chamber Chorus performed together for an hour-and-a-half show. A potluck meal marking Iftar—the community observance of the end of Ramadan—followed the free performance, which was entitled, “Gonna Make This Place Your Home.”

The Jerusalem Youth Chorus is comprised of high school students from East and West Jerusalem who are motivated to learn more about each other and, in the process, find avenues to peace. Collaborative performing of both songs and stories has proven to build friendships among the group and a greater understanding of each other’s communities, which in turn encourages the members to promote amity and armistice.

Founded and directed by Micah Hendler ’07, the chorus melds Micah’s passions for youth singing and Middle East peacemaking. He calls it “a creative approach to conflict transformation.”

The name of this concert, says Micah, “has many layers of meaning. ‘Gonna make this place your home’ is the most important line in ‘Home,’ a song that serves as an anthem of sorts for the YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus, and which we made into a viral music video. When we sing the song, we each commit to supporting each other through challenge and struggle, and creating a space together where all can feel safe and welcome. For me, growing up, the Children's Chorus of Washington and the Sidwell Friends Chamber Chorus were my homes. They were warm and supportive singing communities in which I felt not only accepted, but valued, and could thrive by contributing to others. It was precisely this dynamic that led me to create the YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus as a space that took this inclusive empowering principle a step further, and show that even across lines of conflict, we can create a space for all. To be bringing my work back home to where it all started is a huge honor for me. [View the video here.]

Micah, a graduate of Yale University who pursued degrees in music and international studies, has been at the helm of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus for three years. He has also worked at Seeds of Peace International Camp for Coexistence in Maine. He has presented at conferences and published a paper entitled, “I Am a Seed of Peace: Music and Israeli-Arab Peacemaking.”

Salma Hasan Ali, parent of Zayd A. ’20, attended the concert and afterward shared reflections on the performance from her blog, 30days30deeds.com. The chorus, she wrote, “sang beautifully evocative songs that fused cultures and languages and traditions—from Sufi chants (‘I believe in the religion of love’), to Jewish hymns (‘Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together’), to African American spirituals (‘Keep your hand on the plow’). After a day of fasting [for Ramadan], the music fed our souls and gave song to our deepest desires. . . .

“Watching the kids last night, it was clear they were having a great time; at the end, they all broke out in dance to celebrate. The audience got a chance to sing too—eight simple words that called us to action: ‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.’

“It was the final song, performed together with the Sidwell Friends Chamber Chorus and the Children’s Chorus of Washington, that brought us all to our feet and many of us to tears. ‘Sing with me—Hold on to me as we go. As we roll down this unfamiliar road. And although this wave is stringing us along. Just know you’re not alone. ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.’ The words to ‘Home,’ originally performed by Phillip Phillips, are not only poignant for the region but for the singers, who often brave violence and intimidation to be a part of this chorus, and who strive to transcend their differences to create a space that feels like home. Their three-and-a-half-hour rehearsals include facilitated dialogues to delve deeper into each other’s life experiences, identities, and religious traditions. I must have watched their video of ‘Home’ several dozen times in the past couple of months; each time to the same effect—goosebumps.”

For more about the group, including Micah’s blog, visit jerusalemyouthchorus.org.

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