Retired and Former Faculty and Staff

By: by Carol Borut

Posted March 16, 2016

Having always sung in choruses, I have experienced the synergy and community that develops from singing together with others. This past June I attended a concert at Sidwell Friends presented by The YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus, founded and directed by SFS alumnus Micah Hendler, class of 2007. The singers in this chorus are Palestinian and Israeli young people between the ages of 14 and 18 years old. This was the group’s second international tour and their first U.S. tour. During his Middle School years Micah sang with the Children’s Chorus of Washington and during his Upper School years at Sidwell he sang with John Touchton and the Upper School Chorus. Both of these groups participated in this concert.

I was blown away by the energy and sound of The Jerusalem Youth Chorus and by the passionate commitment of Micah Hendler to his vision that making music together is a way to connect with others, to combat stereotypes and to build a sense of community, even in areas of great conflict and cultural differences. While in high school Micah attended a summer camp in Maine called Seeds of Peace International Camp for Coexistence which brought together teens from conflict regions—with a focus on the Middle East—for a program of facilitated dialogue and shared interpersonal activities. Micah experienced how this people-to-people process could break down barriers and fosters greater understanding among its participants. Back in D.C. Micah studied community building through singing with Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Micah was motivated by these experiences to explore the intersections between music and conflict in order to create an inclusive and shared community.

When Micah moved to Jerusalem in 2012 after graduating from college and began to set up his Youth Chorus, he met with some skepticism and some political opposition. Not knowing how many teens might come out for initial auditions, he was encouraged when 80 people showed up. Thirty-five singers were selected and rehearsals began. The Jerusalem YMCA provides a neutral ground for their work. Micah runs rehearsals speaking English, Arabic, and Hebrew and singers translate for each other when needed. Through singing and facilitated dialogue Micah hoped that the chorus would become a safe haven for his singers in the middle of surrounding violence and conflict. In an interview by the Washington Post this past June, Micah said, “…people are moved consistently by our performances, because we really have succeeded in creating on a very small scale an alternate reality.”

Sitting in the Robert Smith Meeting Room on June 24, I was in awe of what I heard: songs that combined Arabic melodies, rhythms, and Western harmony (what Micah calls “musical cultural fusion”); songs created collaboratively by the singers’ incorporation of their own cultures and sense of place; and songs that reflected their collective desires for peace. The concert and Micah’s leadership were an inspiration for me. Thanks to Sidwell for hosting this concert whose message so powerfully reflects the Quaker values of peace, diversity, and inclusion.

I encourage you to visit the Jerusalem Youth Chorus’ website where you can learn more, as well as see and listen to performances by this group:

Jerusalemyouthchorus.org

If you would like to read published interviews conducted in June with Micah, go to these newspapers and search for these articles that I used as sources:

The Washington Post: In conflict zone, raising young Palestinian and Jewish voices, written by Roger Catlin, June 19, 2015 Washingtonpost.com

New York Times: Youth Chorus Unites Israelis and Palestinians, at Least for a Few Hours, written by Isabel Kershner, June 27, 2015, Nytimes.com