It happened just last week. I heard two of my peers bring up the debate on who should really have ownership to the Modern day land of Israel. “Yea that’s true but it was ours first.” I’m not a very religious or spiritual person. Which may be a large part of the reason why I find the dispute over who should be in control of the modern day land of Israel to be silly. I see no reason why that today Palestinians and Israelis cannot live equally together in the same state without constant attacks on each other's cultures. I don’t necessarily enjoy talking about the disputes in the Middle East, specifically in Israel, but hearing my friends bring it up reminded me of a time where I witnessed young Israelis, Palestinians and Christians, all peers of mine, come together briefly bond with a mutual interest and non-hostile discuss the events of tension they witness in their daily lives and how it upsets and affects them. The Jerusalem Youth Choir, a choir made up of “Palestinian” and “Israeli” teens, had come to visit Philadelphia and the Keystone State Boychoir and Pennsylvania Girlchoir would be hosting them. I remember how I wasn’t looking forward to the discussion workshop we were going to have about race issues in America and Israel, I didn’t think much would come out of it.
I’m entering the church I’ve seen a dozen times before but this time there’s something different. I can hear what sounds like mumbles and the clearing of throats move past my ears. I awkwardly lean against one of the walls in the hallway as I search for my Jerusalem Youth Choir buddy. I couldn't see Muhammad, no, I saw Mohammad but not the one I was looking for. The wave of kids from the three choirs somehow molded into one at the double doors of the church. The idea of ditching Muhammad slipped into my mind and left in the blink of an eye as it occurred to me that my mom would kill me if I was not glued to Muhammad. The large mass of children had all entered the church and I decided it would be best for me to simply join and blend in with the amoeba of my peers that was heading to the dining hall, perhaps I could find Muhammad there. The amoeba was making it’s way into the dining hall of the church, but I had managed to get just a bit ahead of the group. Before me were seven cream colored tables surrounded by metal folding chairs and a few other fellow singers who also managed to get ahead of the group. When the rest of the amoeba fully entered the room I had already found somewhere to sit down at. I began looking for Muhammad as the crowd dispersed. Then I saw him heading towards a far away table and then I noticed he saw me to. One… two… for two seconds we made eye contact and he continued to walk towards the table 40 feet away from mine. At that moment one of the chaperones called out and said that each table should have a mix of kids from each choir and all JYC singers should be with their assigned PG or KSB singer. I moved over to Muhammad's table. I thought about asking him how he is enjoying Philadelphia, but his lack of knowledge of english and my lack of knowledge of Arabic and Hebrew would have made our conversation too short.
The Jerusalem Youth Choir holds cultural workshops after every concert and rehearsal they have. These "workshops" were just discussions and sharing sessions on what the Israeli and Palestinian singers wanted say about local conflicts they may have witnessed or been a part of in their communities. While the Pennsylvania Youth Choirs were hosting JYC in their first tour in America, a select group of singers from the Pennsylvania Youth Choirs would take part in a cultural workshop. The singers from Philly would use strategies JYC uses in their discussions to help discuss the problems of racial discrimination and hate crimes in the United States.
The twelve of us sat down in the small plastic chairs. Around me, 13 other people gathered in a circle. Five other of the Philly singers, six JYC singers and one adult monitoring the discussion. The adult began to present a discussion for us to talk about. “What issues have you noticed in your community between people.” None, as far as I knew, I don’t have much to say. I looked down at my feet. I began to zone out as all objects within my peripheral vision became a eye-straining blur of colors. Then time went so fast, what was feeling like one minute was actually ten. Suddenly my field of was disinterest was broken. One of the JYC singers had brought up how she always found that more conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians come up in less diverse neighborhoods than in neighborhoods than neighborhoods that are more diverse with Israelis and Palestinians. At that moment I was able to connect in my mind how Philadelphia has a similar type of problem, not with daily race based attacks but with the separation of of race through neighborhoods and how some are predominantly black while others are predominately white and with a few in between. It wasn't much to contribute to the discussion but it was something, something to show I was engaged and that even though the conflicts in Israel my not be connected to me that they mean something to me. I looked up from my shoes, but I stayed silent. I sit there looking up and the discussion slows down to a point where the subject is dropped and a new one is brought up.
After the culture workshop ended, I felt like I had not learned much and the mixed feelings of apathy and concern for the people in conflict in Israel were still at conflict with each other, I just wish that I had said something in the meeting.