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Jews, Arabs Becoming Friends Through Classical Music

  • Carolyn Weaver

A project based in the Israeli cities of Nazareth and Jaffa is helping to bring together Jews and Arabs – and at the same time, offering classical music education and training to Palestinian children. Some of the project's musicians came to New York recently to perform.

These young musicians – two Israeli Jews, two Israeli Arabs – are in New York to perform as the Polyphony Quartet – an ensemble created by the Israel-based Polyphony Foundation.

Revital Bendersky and Shir Chyat are violinists and Jewish. Feras Machour, a violinist and violist, is a Palestinian Christian, and Mahdi Saadi, a cellist, is Muslim.

Polyphony began in 2006 at a small school in Nazareth to bring classical music to Arab children, says founder and music director Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar.

“There was never a real proper opportunity for young Arab children to learn classical music. And this is what we were able to change. We showed everyone that there’s no reason why an Arab kid shouldn’t be able to play classical music on a high standard," said Abboud-Ashkar.

The school flourished as teachers - most of them Israeli Jews - drove two hours from Tel Aviv to teach the children. Out of that, Polyphony was formed, to further music education - and to bring together young Palestinian classical music students to perform with their Jewish peers. Friendships developed among people who would otherwise have no reason to meet.

"It changed all my thinking and how I see people, how to accept them and how to be accepted. I never had Jewish friends before, and I never thought I will have," said Mahdi Saadi.

“I started looking at things a bit differently. And like Mahdi said, I never had Arab friends before, it started only with Polyphony," said Revital Bendersky.

"We do rehearsals, we start to know each other more, we start to trust each other in the concerts, in case somebody makes a mistake, we always need somebody to help us, to support. So, we are more as a family team - a family music team," said Saadi.

At one of their New York performances, at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, a piece by Mozart was on the program.

Among those listening were Polyphony co-founders Craig and Deborah Cogut, whose financial support has expanded the program to train 130 teachers. And this year, Polyphony's music education programs in elementary schools and kindergartens are projected to reach 10,000 other young, Israeli Arabs.

Camera by Kamran Taherimoghaddam

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