In tune

Micah Hendler always believed that putting emotions to music is better than expressing them in words. Ten years ago, he changed his conviction into a practical reality, and formed the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, a choir comprised of Israeli and Palestinian high school students. Not that Hendler has rose-colored glasses about the conflict. He is not a man who thinks that music is entirely a universal language which will solve the world’s problems. But he does believe that people from various cultures can be bridged together far more easily through music than people who only have language – and sometimes not the same one at that.  For Hendler, it is music which navigates these limitations and brings people together. 

His practical application of his conviction is working well for the Jerusalem youngsters in the choir. They come from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds and for the most, have different political views. Rehearsals, which are once a week, include practicing the songs as well as discussions and dialogue about the conflict. These are conducted by committed adults who are skilled at bridge building. But it is the singing which opens the door, and ultimately leads the teenagers to listen to the perspective of their fellow choristers.

In high school, Hendler went to a summer camp for teens who grew up in regions of conflict. There he learned to sing a few songs around a camp fire with others who had different ideas and opinions than his own. This coming together with those who differ from him started him on a journey of self-education. First, the American-born Jew devoted himself to studying fluent Arabic and Hebrew. Then at Yale University he wrote a thesis about the meeting of music and dialogue. After completing his work, he needed to put his theory into practice. He left the USA for Israel and formed the Jerusalem Youth Chorus.

In order to join the program, the students have to pass an audition, a personal interview and also a group interview. It is important that whoever is going to be in the group is not just musically competent but also has the maturity to engage in difficult conversations about the conflict. Hendler has made sure he has professional musicians and broad-minded adults on board. As well as enlisting the likes of the Israeli pop musician David Broza, he is also hoping to join together with Ziggy Marley. They have already done a small tour of America. But even though he is tying to get their name out there, he is sensitive to the needs of the students. The reality is that there are some people who oppose the ethos of the choir, so Hendler makes sure that the youngsters only perform at venues where they are truly wanted. Making peace can be a laborious business with ups and downs, but the music and enthusiasm of the singers of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, certainly is making some people sit up and listen.