A new Birthright Israel trip asks that its
participants be ready to get totally exhausted and exhilarated at
the same time. Maybe they should also get ready to jam. These
young people will be taking advantage of one of Birthright's new
trips - a collaboration with the Israeli organization Blues for
Peace - set for Aug. 3-13, that is available free to Jews ages
18-26 who have never been on an organized peer trip to the
Participants will be given an inside glimpse into the
diversity of Israeli music and its power to remove barriers and
forge connections, explained native Milwaukeean, Johnny Mayer,
who founded and heads Blues for Peace and initiated the
collaboration with Birthright.
They will experience the Jewish state through its music, a
unique blend of east and west, blues, jazz, Middle-Eastern,
African, classical, klezmer, Hasidic and more. Tour activities
will include a wide range of musical programs, including a
concert by the Israeli band SOBO, a workshop on music and
tolerance with Jewish and Arab musicians, an evening program of
"Blues and Ethiopian music" and a visit to Galei Tzahal, the
Israel army radio station.
The trip, which will be led by experienced and accredited
Israeli tour guides, will also include visits to Tel Aviv and
Haifa, hiking in the Golan Heights, kayaking down the Jordan
River and touring at Israel's major sites. But this trip differs
from the large mix of Birthright programs now available,
explained Steve Jaffe, operations manager of IsraelExperts, an
educational tour group that organizes this and other Birthright
tours. "This program certainly adds two very interesting elements
that are hardly covered in other trips," he said. "One, of
course, is the musical element, a cultural element…. Then
there's the peace part. I would say that all Birthright programs
deal with war and peace because that's part of our life in
Israel, but this program will delve more deeply," he said.
The trip correlates perfectly with the Blues for Peace mission
of outreach, explained Mayer. He established the organization in
1998 "to honor the roots of blues music, and promote peace and
the understanding that all people have had their share of the
blues," according to its web site. Blues for Peace has become
internationally recognized by UNESCO as promoting the "culture of
peace" and has been featured in many Israeli and international
Mayer knows what music can do in tense situations. He said
that he was at a dinner in the West Bank with a group called
People to People, when they asked him to share his thoughts on
the peace process and the development of the Palestinian state.
"I thought, 'Is there a place I can just melt away?' Then, as I
was getting up, I put my hand on my chest and felt my harmonica.
I said to the people, 'I'm not a speechmaker and certainly not a
politician but this is what I can do.'" He then played his
harmonica directly into the telephone so that this reporter could
hear just what he did.
"Music changes the whole atmosphere," he continued. "Through
music you can break down some of the barriers between people and
create an environment that allows people to talk and try to find
solutions and to build empathy." That same energy is at work with
this trip, Mayer said. He sees it as a way to attract "a segment
of the Jewish population that is off the beaten path….
It's a little quirky, a little offbeat, and you bring in the
people who are at the fringes…."
The trip, both Mayer and Jaffe, emphasize, is not political.
Neither is it only for musicians or peace activists. Jaffe said
that participants will be able to examine peace from many angles,
including the musical one. Mayer is clear about his focus. "We
want to use the music in an overall atmosphere of enhancing the
Jewish people," he said. "It's a beautiful thing to be Jewish.
It's a very cool thing."
In fact, Mayer said, the Blues for Peace tour "is really a
celebration of the Birthright concept itself. It enhances the
overall awareness of the program," which includes Israel trips
from all perspectives, such as ecology, media and communications,
singles and biking.
Birthright began offering free trips almost four years ago
with the intention of bringing 100,000 Jewish young adults to
Israel for the first time. Originally funded by the philanthropic
partners Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, the program is
now a partnership between the Israeli government, local Jewish
communities (United Jewish Communities, Keren Hayesod and the
Jewish Agency for Israel) and many philanthropic foundations,
organizations and individuals, including the founding
Israel's security situation and the current war in Iraq have
led to decreased participation in the program, but Jaffe is
hopeful that people will begin traveling again. Registration has
already begun for the Blues for Peace Birthright trip, and
planners are expecting up to 200 participants.
For more information, contact 1-866-7-ISRAEL or
www.israelexperts.com and www.bluesforpeace.com
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