During a recent 72-hour ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a delegation of Israeli and Palestinian teens traveled 5,000 miles to join 18 young people born in the United States and war-torn regions around the globe, including South Sudan. They stuffed suitcases, procured almost-impossible-to-acquire visas and gathered in peace at Bard College at Simon's Rock to write a song.
The idea for this project originates with Todd Mack, whose good friend journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 suffered the same horrific fate as James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the journalists whose murders by the Islamic State were videotaped and made public to brutalize the world anew. Seeking to honor Pearl's memory, Mack organized a concert in his backyard to underscore a desperate need for peace. That concert has now grown into an international non-profit organization, Music In Common, which seeks to develop community-building programs in conflicted communities around the world. The only goal and the organization's only mission is to have young people come together to create music.
Henry Thoreau once observed how, "Music is the universal language." When 18 teenagers gathered in the Berkshire Mountains, they hoped Thoreau's statement was true. With the hiss of rockets and machine gun fire ringing in their ears, they set to the task of writing a song that would demonstrate to the world the future they imagined for themselves was one of hope, not despair. Over three days, they set aside prejudices and stereotypes and collaborated to craft stirring lyrics and music. Reporting in the Berkshire Eagle, Jenn Smith noted how participant Elizabeth Donata, 17, said the songwriting process 'Was a lot of people bringing together their ideas and we learned to compromise.'
Along with songwriting, a second outcome was Palestinian and Israeli students discovered how they are portrayed in the media is far from the truth. Smith records how, "Maya Kiswani and Batel Asmare, both 18, said one of the best parts of the program was finding each other. Kiswani is Arab and calls Palestine home. Asmare is Jewish and lives in Jerusalem, only about 15 minutes from Kiswani's home. 'We got out of the bubble,' said Kiswani of why she and Asmare were able to become friends."
As Music in Common Associate Director Lynnette Najimy summarized, "What's happened this week is a model of what can happen in the world."
In a world torn further apart every day by violence and war, these teenagers remind us what we hold in common: what can bridge us and what separates us.
I invite you to watch a video of their transformational experience and be reminded we can, as human beings, write beautiful music together. May we all discover the songwriter inside us and strive to create harmony out of tragedy.
Involved in this project are Producer Liesel Litzenburger Meijer, Director Mark Barger Elliott, award-winning cinematographer Tom Hurwitz and Grammy-award winning composer Marcus Hummon. Video produced by SD100G Media.