The Jewish-Arab Orchestra of the Nave Yosef Community Center consists of young Jews and Arabs and includes 21 musicians and 4 singers ages 13-23. They are all from Haifa and the surrounding vicinity and they all perform together under the direction of Idan Sharon, a gifted and talented musician and musical arranger. The orchestra plays a diverse repertoire combining original pieces, Jewish music, Israeli music, classical Arab music, Mediterranean music, and world music thus exposing and familiarizing audiences with intercultural compositions and songs. Audiences attending these concerts enjoy diverse music bouncing from East to West and vice versa, from Israeli music to Arab, from slow to fast, from exciting to funny, from Western instruments to Middle Eastern instruments, singing in Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic and English. Oftentimes, the audience finds it hard to believe that such musical quality is produced by these youngsters. Beyond the musical experience, the orchestra inspires great friendships and connection through language, religion and gender. The music is a means to many and varied personal conversations, meetings, friendships, a desire to help each other, positive energy and a laid-back ambience.
The founding of the orchestra can be credited to its initiator, music school director Zehavit Toledo, who through her persistence, determination and dedication, led to the establishment of the orchestra. Aided by donors, Rotary Carmel and other friends, and the support of the center’s management, Zehavit was able to procure the appropriate funding to complete the initiative. Zehavit says that one of her ambitions was to build a Jewish-Arab orchestra reflecting the diverse human mosaic of the residents of the Nave Yosef community center area in Haifa, emphasizing the connection between Jews and Arabs, upholding the belief that Jews and Arabs want, and are capable of living side by side in respect and peace. And that sometimes stigmas, the unknown, and incitement cause insecurity and fear. She thought that through music, which is a universal non-verbal language, she could promote a multicultural channel of familiarity and communication. Beyond that, she saw the need for Jewish and Arab joint activities in light of the complicated political and social complexities that we are so familiar with here in Israel.
The orchestra doesn’t only sing and play, it actually implements a shared life and joint routines daily. Even during stressful times caused by the ever-changing security situations, members of the orchestra continue to meet and play and sing and voice their longing for change.
This would be the place to mention that the community center network of Nave Yosef includes the Arab center in the Hallisa neighborhood which is mostly Arab, as well as many Arab residents from other neighborhoods in eastern Haifa, taking part as consumers and partners. Even if they don’t necessarily identify with the national flag, anthem and/or ceremonies, the genuine friendship, familiarity with the other side’s culture and musical experiences create the opportunity for respectful discourse and meaningful connections that help especially in times of crisis that occur all too often in Israel. There is a shared fate alongside the daily shared life. Listen to “Hallelujah” in four languages, English, Hebrew, Amheric and Arabic —
Zehavit, the director of the music school, reflects that at the beginning the connections made were more important than the musical level, but as time passed she understood the importance of quality playing in addition to working on connections and ties, this realization would help promote the message of a shared life and showcase it in Israeli society and to the world at large.
“The orchestra needed to be good enough to perform at community events as well as high-level events, and this indeed happened. To improve the orchestra, I needed a soulful player and after searching I found the insanely talented musical director, our maestro Idan Sharon, a musician with notable accomplishments in the music industry, Idan began his journey and continued it with Kobi Aflalo,” says Zehavit. Later, NMC Music (a record label) approached Idan to work with Agam Bohbot following her appearance in the TV show ‘Music School’, which he did. At the same time, he has worked with the biggest music producers in Israel, and can be credited with quite a few hits from some of the biggest names including Shlomo Artzi, Yuval Dayan and others. Idan is leading the Jewish-Arab Orchestra in a very special direction. He thinks in that professionalism is not a matter of ability/talent, it’s a matter of attitude and charting the right path. With Idan’s approach, professional and uncompromising leadership, and the special democratic atmosphere he has instilled, an orchestra of eight teenagers aged 13 plus can sound amazing. For example, as part of their growth, Idan allows all the musicians and singers a safe space for trial and error. They are all equals, disregarding age and experience, and all have a voice, not just musically, but also in outlining their musical path. Thus, the process taking place in the orchestra yields both growth and development in a very safe and special way.
It is enough to watch and listen to the weekly orchestra rehearsals, in order to see and be affected by the prevailing special and loving atmosphere. The orchestra was created about nine years ago, and after two years traveled to an anthroposophical school in Germany, with whom they performed in both Germany and Poland to commemorate the victory over the Nazis. This year they have performed for audiences in Athens, Trikala and Thessaloniki. During their preparations the orchestra members were told about the Holocaust of the Greek Jews and visited the Salonika and Geece Jewry Heritage Center in Petah Tikva where they heard about the universal aspects of the Holocaust. Here is a look at one of the rehearsals:
In conclusion Zehavit says, “I have a dream to lead and establish more of these projects in as many community centers as possible. To bring my experience to other community centers and again try to create connections like those that have evolved so successfully here.” Our project is still alive and kicking in no small part thanks to the wide support that we have received from community center director Mr. Shimon Yifrach and its management and head Mr Amos Gino who spare no resources and are undeterred by the high costs of the project. So I thank them in my own name and in the name of the team and orchestra.