Music in the Key of Peace

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The Importance of Music Education, by Molly MacGregor

I have mentioned a lot in my pieces for this newsletter how important it is for children to interact with others from different backgrounds and viewpoints, to learn about the experiences of others from a perspective they might not have otherwise considered. We’ve also talked about grassroots movements in general and how needed they are in peace efforts. What’s only been touched on briefly, though, is the great benefits of music education for children, in any part of the world, for many reasons. 

Our partner organizations are trying to change how people think about and approach working for peace, as well as bring children of different backgrounds together to have a more empathetic appreciation for the world around them. But they’re also doing something else: giving children a chance to learn music, to appreciate, create, and perform it, and that all on its own is worthy of praise. 

Music education is immensely beneficial to children no matter where they are; even happy, healthy kids growing up in privileged lives with no conflict do better when they have it (just one example: “A research team exploring the link between music and intelligence reported that music training is far superior to computer instruction in dramatically enhancing children’s abstract reasoning skills, the skills necessary for learning math and science. Shaw, Rauscher, Levine, Wright, Dennis and Newcomb, “Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning,” Neurological Research, Vol. 19, February 1997”). And for children growing up amidst conflict—I don’t just mean the Israeli/Palestinian conflict here, I mean any child dealing with fear and chaos and uncertainty on a regular basis—music is an outlet, a way to channel feelings and concerns that might otherwise stay bottled up. Music is something a child can connect to and a skill they can hone for the rest of their life. It’s also a way to spread a message about what their lives and struggles are like, by catching the attention of others with an interesting sound so that they keep listening to the story being imparted. 

By supporting Music in the Key of Peace and the organizations we work with, you’re supporting not only grassroots, bottom-up initiatives for peace, you’re also supporting music education for children, which is eminently beneficial for the development of both self-discipline and self-expression. There’s not just one approach to music education happening, either. The Shani Choir stresses the importance of appreciation for classical music, Heartbeat:Jerusalem is in the process of developing a hip-hop opera, and the children at Ein Bustan can often be found singing along (sometimes in Hebrew, sometimes in Arabic) while a teacher plays a guitar. So we aren’t just giving children a chance to learn and create music, we’re giving them a chance to learn and create many different types of music. Because of this, not only will the children helped by our friends have experience working and playing side-by-side with Jewish, Arab, Palestinian and Israeli kids, they’ll be learning about the beauty of music at the same time. They’ll gain lifelong skills that will benefit them whether they continue to perform their whole lives or not, and they’ll have a new way of expressing fear, anger, joy and sadness available to them.

Molly MacGregor

Feb 9

Visit of the German Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Joint Arab Jewish kindergarten in Hilf (Reposted from Ein Bustan’s FaceBook)

This past Thursday, 2/2/12, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Germany and member of the Bundetsag Mr. Ruprecht Polenz visited the joint Arab-Jewish kindergarten Ein Bustan, in Hilf, accompanied by a delegation from the German Embassy. The Mayor of Bosmat Tivon, Mr. Muhamed Zubidat (Abu Yassin) also joined the visit. The joint Arab Jewish kindergarten of Ein Bustan, which runs a bi-lingual kindergarten, is attended by 50 children in 4 age groups, half of them are residents of Kiryat Tivon and the other half - from the Bedouin towns Bosmat Tivon, Hilf, Zubidat and Zarzir. The kindergarten was founded in 2005 as a joint initiative of Arab and Jewish parents from Kiryat Tivon and Bosmat Tivon and its surrounding villages. Mr. Polenz, who  was visiting in Israel and attended the Herzliya Conference, is active in encouraging good relationships between countries and also between peoples from different countries and religions. Mr. Polenz became aware of Ein Bustan through a group of the kindergarten’s supporters in Germany, and visited the kindergarten in order to express his appreciation and support.

The visiters visited the kindergarten and were invited to participate in a special ceremony that takes place every week towards the end of the week. The ceremony is in honor of the upcoming Shabbat (The Jewish Day of rest, on Saturday) and Jumaa (Friday - the day of rest and prayer for Muslims). During the ceremony the children sang in both Arabic and Hebrew, and two kindergarten teachers, one Arabic speaking and the other Hebrew speaking, lit two candles. Amir Shlomian, CEO of the Maayan Babustan NGO, that runds the kindergarten, explained to the visiters that the joint lighting of candles in two languages has symbolic meaning: “In order to be One, I need to get to know the Other”. The kindergarten puts an emphasis on being open and respectful to the culture and language of each people.

Ruprecht Polenz thanked them for the warm welcome and remarked that in light of the deep divisions that mark Israeli society, there is great significance for projects such as this, that bring different segments of Israeli society together. “Together you will enrich each other -  if you are united you will have a stronger society.”

The Ein Bustan kindergarten is now in its 7th year, under the supervision and license of the Ministry of Education, and plans to open a joint Arab Jewish primary school as the natural continuing framework for the kindergarten’s graduates. Registration is now open for the next school year.

[From Amitai: Two things you can do. First visit their site. Second, show some love (donate) for this wonderful initiative. When it comes to successful peace initiatives, education is key, and no school does it better than Ein Bustan.]

Feb 7

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Feb 6

No Need to Pick Sides, by Molly MacGregor

Before I went back to school a few years ago, I had a job I was at for four years. It was in a small company with about 20 employees, divided into a day, night, and overnight shift. Due to the alternating stress and boredom of working in a small space with the same people year after year, tension would grow between those on the day shift and those on the night shift. Each group had their own way of doing things, and felt those on the other shift were treated more favorably than them regarding some issue or another. Because I worked the overnight and night shifts, I interacted with the employees working both day and night. I liked and got along with all of them, but would be in a tough position when they started criticizing each other; I agreed with some of the positions of the day shift and some of the positions of the night shift (and sometimes disagreed with both of them), and this was frequently unsatisfying to people who expected me to unconditionally take their side. The day shift often thought I was hopelessly biased toward the night shift, and the night shift saw me as overly defensive of the day shift. In reality, I thought they both sometimes made good points and other times took positions I disagreed with. 

I’m reminded of that situation when listening to people discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict, especially when they reference President Obama. While one article might argue that he is an anti-Semite, trying to destroy Israel, another will say he is a tool of Israel out to kill Palestinians. No matter one’s opinion toward Obama in general and his policies toward Israel and Palestine in specific, it’s clear that both accusations can’t be right (if either of them even are). But to people who are predisposed to only see one side of a situation, it can be easy to slide into a two-dimensional view of others who don’t share their views one hundred percent of the time.

This creates a tough situation for peace workers. Many of us care about individuals on both sides and desire real agreements, but find ourselves in arguments with partisans whose only agenda is demonizing the other side. I don’t refer here just to Israelis and Palestinians who at least have understandable reasons for having strong views in support of or opposition to the other side; there are people all over the world who claim to care about Israel or Palestine but who show that care by relentlessly attacking others and contributing to tensions and animosity between both sides. 

I’m not in any position to criticize outsiders for taking an interest in the conflict and doing work related to it, since that would be incredibly hypocritical of me. I’m an outsider myself in every sense to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but I do, being a generally politically opinionated person, have some interest in it (I also of course am simply aware of the world around me). But, realizing my position as an outsider, I don’t feel it’s my place to advocate only on behalf of one side or another. How is it my position to say “this side is completely right and this side is completely wrong” when the issues affecting them will never affect me? This is the value of Music in the Key of Peace and the organizations we’re partnered with: they allow people—both connected to the conflict and not—to support initiatives for genuine peace and understanding without having to align themselves with a side. Because for us and our partner organizations, it’s not about “sides” or who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about realizing that no matter their background or where they come from, there are people caught in the middle and trying to live their lives while this conflict goes on around them. There will always be those more committed to being on the “right side” who are ready to say “how can you work with them?” but hopefully Music in the Key of Peace, and the groups we work with and will work with in the future, will influence how people think about peace efforts enough that those whose efforts do nothing but sow distrust and animosity will become an increasingly small minority. 

Molly MacGregor

Sixty-Four Years Ago, by Amitai Gross

"Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it."

-Jawaharlal Nehru

Bapu Gandhi

Today marks the sixty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of one of the world’s greatest lights to shine in the 20th century. One person, who’s great will and leadership inspired the greatest nonviolent revolution in history, coerced millions of Hindus and Muslims to cease their violence on more than one occasion, and proved that, no matter how much darkness there is in the world, it only takes one small candle to light millions more.

Mahatma Gandhi, the father of a nation, and most successful preacher of nonviolent resistance, proved how much change one determined person can bring about, without ever acquiring a political title. His philosophy of Satyagraha (truth force) taught us that the human soul naturally desires peace, and the only way to truly defeat an opponent is with love and respect for them.

Nonviolent resistance, to Gandhi, was not a passive strategy. In fact, he taught that if one should had to choose between violence and doing nothing at all, one should choose violence, but only if they don’t know of the greater choice. To actively resist oppression through nonviolence, Gandhi taught that one must accept that we will be subjected to it. However, to react in kind would only add to the cycle of violence and should be avoided at all costs.

It’s strange that history has repeated itself so much that the greatest preachers of pacifism, the most effective representatives of peace, have always been martyred. From Jesus of Nazareth, to Gandhi, to Dr. King in Memphis, our greatest lights are often extinguished for their messages of radical love and acceptance.

Thankfully, one candle has the ability to light so many others. The work Bapu Gandhi did in India did not end on January 30th, 1948. It continued in a march on Montgomery and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It continued on the streets of Budrus and Tel Aviv. It has continued around the world, an ongoing struggle for peace and equality for all people.

Today, remember the great soul, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, by embracing forgiveness and love for the people who need it most, the ones we’re often unwilling to extend it to. We may honor his memory by reaching out to those we disagree with, offering friendship, rather than animosity. Most importantly, for his message, we should never accept passivity when striving for peace and justice. With every breath, every action, every waking moment, we have the power to “be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Amitai Gross

It Begins With the Children, by Josh Banyard

In an effort to create a more culturally integrated and harmonious Israel many grassroots activists are focusing on the development and promotion of integrated learning for Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab children. The Israeli Education system suffers from a lack of awareness over the affects of their language policies. While Arabic is elective in most Israeli schools, it is treated at best as a second language and the majority of courses are taught in Hebrew, inherently creating educational disadvantages for Arabic children. It creates a segregated education system that forces Arabic speaking children to seek alternate sources of education while their Jewish compatriots can continue in their Hebrew classrooms. 

School is where children begin to develop an awareness of societal norms and values. Given the difficulties facing the current generation of Israeli political leaders, should we not desire a more equal and just beginning for the next generation? Education reform is obviously not the cure all for Israel’s societal woes but it is a solid first step towards correcting the injustices of the past. There are many grassroots organizations and activists that are working towards this goal with a multitude of different methodologies and practices. 

Many organizations focus on ensuring that all children are afforded the maximum benefit allowed under the law and provide education on the law and support to families who have been left behind by the system. Additionally, there are institutions and people who work to try to change the law, those who engage in attempts at top down reform. Both of these forms of social activism are extremely valuable and contribute to the betterment of Israel’s education system. However, there is a new third brand of educational reform that is in its very initial stages. 

There has begun a movement to develop educational options for those families seeking a more culturally and religiously balanced education for their children. Rather than wait for the law to demand such forms of education, these visionary educators have moved forward with little or no governmental support to develop these programs. A prime example of this is the Ein Bustan Arab Jewish Waldorf School, a program that Music in the Key of Peace has partnered with. The educators at Ein Bustan “share a vision of a society in which Jews and Arabs live together peacefully in equality and understanding. In order to create this reality, we believe that there must be education that fosters true friendship, trust and shared culture and language. An educational system that separates children by their religion and nationality fails to take into consideration the widening gap between the two communities, which will take years to bridge and generations to mend. “ Through the education of children, Ein Bustan hopes to build relationships between disparate parties in its community in an attempt to begin small scale coalition building with the view of promoting a larger peace. This is an education model that can be replicated across Israel and, in its limited tenure, has shown remarkable success. 

The expansion of this education philosophy would became far easier with increased support from the education ministry who has so far been unwilling to support innovative education techniques. The Education Ministry needs to place an emphasis on correcting this issue, if Israel continues to segregate youth through its education practices, little hope can be placed in the creation of a more just and equitable society in the future free of the perceived racial biases that plague Israeli institutions in the present. 

Josh Banyard

"In a world where so many adults insist on behaving like children, it’s the actual children who are being ignored" by Molly MacGregor

Every day it seems there is yet another story coming out of Israel and the entire Middle East that drives home how very necessary it is to create an educational environment for children of different backgrounds to interact with each other. Now, I can’t say for sure that if every child had been involved in a music program like Heartbeat:Jerusalem or the Shani Girls’ Choir, there would never again be incidents like hospital or newspaper website hackings to display, among other things, anti-Semitic messages and Nazi comparisons, but I’m willing to bet that the likelihood would diminish.

In a world where so many adults insist on behaving like children, it’s the actual children who are being ignored. They’re also losing out, since they’re growing up in an environment where hating others for their background and failing to see them as human beings is normalized and frequently unquestioned. Ignorant children become ignorant adults, and ignorant adults unfortunately often end up in positions of power. Just look at the Israeli MK who, angered by an argument with an Arab Israeli colleague, responded by dumping a glass of water on him. Or, again, the hacking attacks by groups such as Anonymous Palestine who thought taking down the websites of two Israeli hospitals was a worthwhile move. To call such behavior childish is putting it politely. 

There are, of course, many adults who are frustrated by such actions and the climate that spawned them, and luckily some of them have decided to work with children in the hopes of raising a new generation which will grow up to treat others with respect, even when they greatly disagree politically.

The goal of Music in the Key of Peace and our affiliated organizations is not to instill any political biases or win anyone over to “the other side,” whatever the other side of their beliefs might be. Rather, we want to give children a chance to play and learn and create together and understand that children from different backgrounds aren’t evil inhuman enemies, they’re just kids. And hopefully participating in such educational experiences at a young age will help inspire them to take the same attitude as adults. While two kids from the same program may grow up to have radically different political views, we hope they would be able to argue those views in a more respectful and understanding way. 

There are plenty of reasons for Israeli and Palestinian (and Arab and Jewish) children and young adults to feel frustrated, angry, and scared. A goal for some of our friends in the Middle East is to give them an outlet to express any anger and fear they might have in a safe and creative way. Since the programs bring children from different backgrounds together, it also gives them a chance to hear and understand viewpoints they might never have considered otherwise. This is such a vitally important experience because it promotes a sense of empathy for others—even others they might never fully agree with politically—to develop. It’s that empathy that holds people back from posting anti-Semitic messages on websites, or pouring water on colleagues they get in disagreements with. 

We are not naïve enough to think that we can create a perfect world, but it’s not naïve to think that we can help make a better one. We can’t fix years of bitter resentment and political disagreements, but we can teach children to handle those in a more productive way that recognizes the humanity of all involved. Grassroots peace efforts like those promoted by Music in the Key of Peace can help build a world where adults don’t act quite so much like children, and where children aren’t expected to inherit the biases and hatred of adults. 

Molly MacGregor

To Julie and Waldorf Schools, by Amitai Gross

When I left for Israel to begin the journey that would eventually set this organization in motion, the only connection I had beforehand was to the Ein Bustan Arab Jewish Waldorf School. I had met an Israeli Waldorf teacher in Colorado who worked with the Salaam Shalom Education Foundation, a group that helps fund and grow the Waldorf community in Israel. She figured that Ein Bustan was right up my alley, considering their relationship with the music they used in the classroom. I didn’t need to question the legitimacy of Waldorf education and how it could be successful in creating a peaceful environment for children to grow. I myself was a Waldorf kid from third through fifth grade and still consider that philosophy to have been the most successful form of education in regards to instilling a deep love for learning within me.

My experience in Waldorf school was truly remarkable. The first one I attended, The Elmwood School of Berkeley, California, was not necessarily a traditional Waldorf experience, taking inspiration from Native American and other indigenous traditions. Being a small school (third through fifth grade all met in one classroom with the same teacher) our learning experiences were greatly individualized while the Waldorf sense of communal trust and support were still emphasized. We were a family, encouraged to support each other, play well together, and respect our differences, participating in group projects like cultural studies and theater productions as a unit. At the same time, we learned at our own paces, advancing in reading, writing, math, and social studies according to our own abilities. We all received the same amount of kind, nurturing support as we pursued our interests and developed our passion for learning. All of this was thanks to one amazing woman.

Julie Auer was the wife of retired Methodist Reverend John Auer, an equally remarkable humanitarian and preacher, and changed my life, as well as those of numerous children who entered her classroom. She had a talent for keeping a calm and peaceful demeanor (no easy task with a full class of children ages seven to ten years old), while still delighting students and parents alike with her colorful eccentricities so welcomed in the Waldorf world (she was the first adult I ever met who wore mismatched socks most days). She inspired us to devour books, while still reading aloud to the class every day (in the true Waldorfian fashion). Her choice of books usually revolved around fantastical adventure, exercising our active imaginations (The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time, The King of Ireland’s Son, and such), and she shined in every aspect of teaching, whether in the classroom, on the stage (she took school plays very seriously), the playground (of course she joined us in most games of tag), or our yearly outdoor camping excursions.

Today I learned that Miss Julie (as we called her) passed away peacefully on New Years Day, surrounded by her family. She and my parents remained in correspondance over the years and I would receive updates on her life every so often, but her husband, Rev. Auer, was so kind to send me an email informing me. 

I have made it clear since I began this project that I am a staunch believer in the power of Waldorf education for creating a peaceful, imaginative, and nurturing environment for children, who will grow to be remarkable human beings. My experience at Ein Bustan and other Waldorf schools in Israel enforced that as I saw how it built bridges between young Arab and Jewish children. I know first-hand how well a young person may thrive in this environment and the effect a brilliant educator may have on that development.

Miss Julie, thank you for teaching me to love learning, pursue peace, and always think creatively, letting my heart lead my head. It’s impossible to forget a bright presence like yourself. 

Amitai Gross

The Awakening of Israel’s Political Middle Class, by Josh Banyard

Housing Protests, Tel Aviv

The summer of 2011 saw the resurgence of the Israeli middle class as a political and activist entity. Massive street protests galvanized by middle class youth connected through social media, stole the news cycle from the government and forced public concessions from the government including promises of new more affordable housing and the creation of the Trajtenberg Committee, an entity established by Prime Minister Netanyahu to examine the flaws in Israel’s established socioeconomic order and to recommend policy solutions to improve both the social hierarchy of Israel and the economic situation of its middle and lower classes through amendments to the tax code and social benefits. 

The protests began with a social media push, mainly through Facebook and Twitter, to hold the government accountable for the lack of affordable housing throughout Israel. What began as a Facebook group with a few hundred members quickly turned into a small tent city in central Tel Aviv, established in July 2011. The remarkable staying power of these campers brought large amounts of media attention, which in turn was rewarded with even more protesters arriving in Tel Aviv as well as sympathy protest movements being established in other Israeli cities. Quickly, the protests grew to tens of thousands taking to the streets on a regular basis, all built around this core campground of hardcore activists. 

These protests increasingly became massive in scale, culminating in a street protest in Tel Aviv that was 400,000 strong, not even counting sympathy protests across Israel that occurred on the same day. It was a huge turnout for a country with a population of 7.6 million, over 5% of the nation was on the street at one time. This would be the equivalent of 16 million Americans marching on Washington, DC at the same time. It was under this immense social outcry that the government finally relented and began negotiation sessions with protest leaders which eventually led to government promises for increased housing and the creation of governmental bodies to examine ways to increase availability to social services for all Israeli’s.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of these surging protests was the changing nature of the causes that the activists wished to be addressed. What began as a protest of the looming domestic housing crisis quickly grew to envelop pressing concerns about taxation and deteriorating access to crucial public services such as healthcare and education. Out of these growing concerns came the development of this overarching concept of “social justice” that they wished to be integrated into the way policy was made in Israel. This new regard for Israeli social justice was an attempt to portray the need for a change in the established socioeconomic order of Israel, a reassessment of taxation and social services are handed out within the nation. This is perhaps the most powerful idea to come out of the summer protests and is what directly led to the establishment of the Trajtenberg Committee, a body established to examine ways to integrate this new concept of social justice into Israeli policy and society. 

These protests represented a new and potent voice that had previously failed to unite and speak out in such a powerful manner. There has been a marked surge in public displays of the middle class’s discontent in recent years, something that had been lacking in years past. The push for this discontent to be displayed on the streets by grassroots activists is something that should continue to be encouraged as it has shown a remarkable ability to pressure the government into change. The most remarkable aspect of these summer protests however has been the ability of these disparate middle class individuals and organizations to unify under one banner and push for sweeping social change, a powerful message that, as seen by these protests, when unified presents an immense amount of pressure on the governing coalition to enact change. 

Josh Banyard

Israeli Parents Cast Aside Their Differences to Talk About Education Reform, by Molly MacGregor

I’ve talked in other articles about our belief in grassroots movements, especially as they relate to peace work and education. A recent story out of Israel reaffirms this belief and shows that there is a receptive audience there, outside of the organizations we are affiliated with, who are working to get such movements going themselves. 

As Ynet reports, “Some 120 Jewish and Arab parents, teachers, and community activists from low-income neighborhoods across Israel gathered together in the hills of Neve Shalom last month. Here, observant Jews in skullcaps sat beside men and women of Ethiopian descent, who sat next to Arab men in leather jackets and keffiyahs, with secular Jews and Muslim women in headscarves mixed in. And all of them were there to discuss grassroots change in education.”

The men and women present came from different backgrounds and ideologies, and there are probably many issues which they disagree with each other about. But they put those issues aside for this meeting, because they had a common cause they all believed in. This is at the heart of what Music in the Key of Peace is about: not asking people to completely forget the issues that divide them, but to focus on the desires and goals they have in common. So much discussion of the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians and between Arab and Jewish Israelis seems to assume that those conflicts are the only issues facing Israelis and Palestinians. We often forget that these are still people with lives and jobs and families, not just faceless sides in one dispute. I suppose it’s easier to see a situation as two completely separate sides with no ability to relate to each other whatsoever, but being so simplistic also serves to reduce the nuance and therefore the humanity of everyone involved. 

Grassroots movements are ideal for situations like this, because they are often led by the people most directly affected. These parents have a need in their own lives—for their children to receive a quality education—that they feel is not being met. (As the article says: “According to the Adva Center, only 46.1% of Israeli students pass the bagrut [matriculation] exams, and of these, only 39.5% of the students pass at the level required for college or university admission.”) So, they’re getting together and talking to each other, despite whatever differences they might normally have otherwise, to figure out how to fix the problems. 

Similarly, Music in the Key of Peace is committed to supporting organizations which bring students of all backgrounds together to learn and create music. As I’ve said before, children aren’t pawns or political symbols or sides in a conflict—they’re children. They deserve to pursue their passions with others their age who share them, regardless of what their background or political views are. The groups we support came about because of the dreams of individuals who wanted to create something better for children, who wanted to let them be children and do the things kids do. Kids in Israel and Palestine are growing up in the midst of a huge ongoing conflict but they’re also growing up in a world where they need a good education, where they have interests similar to those of other kids all over the world, and luckily, there are some grassroots groups started by concerned adults which recognize that.

Molly MacGregor