For the first time in its four-year history, Birthright Israel - which has provided free 10-day educational tours of the country to over 40,000 Diaspora Jews aged 18 to 26 - will from August 3 to 13 combine the gift of Israel with the gift of music.
Born of a unique partnership between birthright israel and Blues for Peace - a Jerusalem-based member of the International Blues Foundation - that since 1997 has strived to promote peace and the understanding that "ALL peoples have had their share of the Blues" - the project was inspired by a request from a prospective birthright participant to attend a Blues for Peace event during her tour.
"We thought it was a great idea," recalled founder of Blues for Peace Johnny Mayer, who pitched the idea to birthright israel the day he received the email. "Everybody in Israel knows about birthright israel. The very mention of the program brings a smile to people's faces."
Birthright Israel & Israel Experts
But it wasn't until Israel Experts - one of birthright israel's local tour operators - agreed to come on board that the project really took off. Israel Experts, which has gained a reputation for its informal, hands-on approach to education, has devised a variety of special-interest trips, including theater, bicyling, J-Date and Eco-challenge tours.
According to Director of Israel Experts Joe Perlov, Blues for Peace was a perfect fit. "Our objective is to reach kids through a connection to Israel that interests them," explained Perlov. "In this case, we will connect to interested youth through the universal language of music."
Aside from birthright israel's compulsory educational requirements, which include topics such as Jewish history, Israeli culture and Diaspora relations, the specialized program's estimated 200 music-loving participants will encounter Israeli peer groups that share their interests, and together they will partake in five or six "workshop concerts," wherein Israeli musicians from a variety of backgrounds will perform, instruct and offer an explanation of their music's origin.
"We will use music to look at multicultural issues," explained Mayer, who included meetings with Arabic musicians and guitarist Eran Ashkenazi, a soldier injured in the Wadi Ara No. 823 bus bombing last year, among the program's special activities. "The Blues for Peace program will deepen the meaning of peace and the struggle for peace," he said.
Birthright Israel & Israeli Musicians
"I see the Blues for Peace tour as something I have to do as an Israeli," said composer/pianist Yitzhak Yedid, whose sextet founded Jerusalem's Swedish Chef weekly concert series at the Gerard Behar Center, where musicians from various walks of life gather every Saturday night in an attempt to bridge the gaps between them. "With my music alone, one can feel the history of its Jewish-Arabic tradition. It's an important mission to expose these kids to this combination between the past and the present."
"Our music is very Israeli, too," added guitarist Yossi Swed from the eight-member Israeli folk rock band Ham U Meham Boom. "I think it will be a good experience for them to hear music that is not American music in Hebrew, but actually Israeli."
"It's a really important aspect of the country for kids to get to know," concurred pianist Judy Lewis, whose self-named jazz trio has played at scores of venues across Israel since 1997. "Whereas most organized trips focus solely on the historical implications of the country and the traditions of the country, we are hopefully moving forward as fast as the rest of the world, and exciting new things are always taking place - especially in the field of the arts. I think it's important for the kids to get the whole perspective."
Participating musicians are apt to acknowledge that they also stand to gain something from the cultural exchange. "It's a very new and exciting experience," said Swed. "Our crowd always has the same characters, so it will be nice to play for North Americans."
Birthright Israel & American Jews
"It's like an enlargement of the community here," agreed Nadav Haber, a Jerusalem-based Jazz/Blues saxophonist Nadav Haber, who will perform with Ethiopian singer Zene during the tour. "The communication with American Jews will influence what is happening here."
"This project is especially pertinent to this period of time, when kids come and see all the challenges that the country is going through," concluded Lewis. "I think it can be tremendously inspiring for them to see how much beauty can grow out of a situation like this."
By Jenny Hazan
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