Jerusalem's youth chorus hopes no more division

CNC
Added On June 18, 2017

This month marks 50 years since Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and gained control over both sides of the city.
 
Since then the city has been bitterly divided, between Arabs and Israelis.
 
But one youth choir is looking to change all that.
 
Lifestyles has more.
 
In a room of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Jerusalem, Arab and Israeli youths meet for a unique chorus rehearsal
 
As a show of their different backgrounds, the rehearsals are conducted in Arabic, English and Hebrew.
 
For the twelve teenagers who are preparing for the YMCA's Jerusalem Youth Chorus this week, it's all about getting the words right and the melody on key.
 
In a city riddled with conflict and violence, it is a rare sight to see Arab and Israeli youth working together towards a common goal.
 
Micah Hendler, the choir's music director, formed the group in 2012. 
 
Since then, they have performed internationally and even released an album.
 
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): MICHA HENDLER, Jerusalem Youth Chorus
"We can represent what this city could be in a really powerful way. Not that somehow our singing together symbolizes what currently is the reality – its not at all, but the idea is that we could be an example maybe for what the city could look like if people had the chance to interact as equals and to build relationships and to understand one another then like things could look very different."
 
Between rehearsals, the young also engage in dialogue sessions, designed to air things out.
 
For most of the members, it is their first direct exposure to people on the other side of the argument. 
 
Rohan Mehta is a 14 year old resident of a Jewish neighborhood in the west of Jerusalem.
 
It's his first year in the chorus. He studied in a bi-lingual school with Arab and Jewish residents - so interacting with Arab youth is not new to him. 
 
But the chorus provided him with a greater insight to the complex city he is growing up in.
 
SOUNDBITE(ENG): ROHAN MEHTA, Jerusalem Youth Chorus member
"I learned that being an Arab in Jerusalem is much harder than being Jewish, which is a thing that I didn't know before. I didn't think its easy, but I didn't hear the stories that are telling me how much it's hard."
 
Israel's control over both sides of the city has never been recognized by international law. 
 
The gap between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem is a visible one.
 
Jude Alsarie is a 14-year-old member living in East Jerusalem.
 
While she enjoys the interaction with her Jewish peers, she is very realistic about the city she lives in.
 
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): JUDE ALSARIE, Jerusalem Youth Chorus member
"The reality is, that we're segregated.”
 
Hendler does not deny that politics seeps into the room. In fact, some of the group sessions are dedicated to dialogue rather than rehearsals.
 
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): MICHA HENDLER, Jerusalem Youth Chorus
"It's also a conflict resolution space. So the fact that people – if something really horrible happens outside, people generally ask for dialogue about it."
 
As voices merge into one, they rise above the animosity that often characterizes Arab-Israeli relations in the city. 
 
For Jude and Rohan and other members of the chorus, it is a unique opportunity to interact with peers, without outside influences.
 
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): JUDE ALSARIE, Jerusalem Youth Chorus member
"We should, like, overlook stereotypes and overcome irrational fears of the other person because of differences and that I'd like to educated more people about it."
 
The Israel outside may be divided. 
 
But for a few hours each week, at least one corner of the city... continues to sing as one.