Peace through music

A park in Zichron Yaakov with RebbeSoul and Eliyahu McLean

A park in Zichron Yaakov with RebbeSoul and Eliyahu McLean Sept. 14, 2014

In my brother Rabbi Benzion Cohen’s column, he writes that love is one of the ways to bring peace to the world. I agree and add that music is also a powerful method.

For the past several years, we have been publishing stories by Jerusalem Peacemaker Eliyahu McLean. He frequently writes about the interfaith events he organizes in Israel with leaders of the different religions in the area. These usually include the playing of all kinds of musical instruments, singing, chanting, drumming and dancing to help people to see beyond their differences and recognize their similarities.

About their last event on International Peace Day Sept. 21, he wrote: “We chanted – Jews, Christians and Muslims – ‘Shalom, Salaam’, in the main square [of the Jewish quarter]…We continued to the rooftops above the shuk (market) at the meeting point of the Jewish, Christian and Muslims quarters next to the Holy Sepulchre, where more Israelis and Palestinians joined us. In our chanting circle for peace, we added the Aramaic for peace ‘shelomo’: ‘Shalom…Salaam…Shelomo’ with Father Abuna Moshe invoking G-d’s name in a prayer for harmony of Abraham’s children.

“We closed with a prayer and teaching circle in the Muslim quarter on the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice. I shared that Jews say selichot now, in the nights up to Rosh Hashana. ‘Selichot’ is close to the word ‘sulha’ the ritual of reconciliation in Arabic. Perhaps now is the time to seek selicha/sulha – forgiveness with each other in the wake of this recent war – beyond just Jews with Jews or Arab with Arabs…

“Even though we have a long way to go in this conflicted city and land, we helped create an island of harmony on this, the International Day of Peace.”

When The Yuval Ron Ensemble was in Indianapolis for International Peace Day Sept. 21, 2011, I wrote: “Yuval Ron commented that some people think that the way to diminish darkness is with more darkness. He believes the way to diminish the darkness is with light and that is what his group does with their music. They travel around infusing light by highlighting the commonalities of the different religions and bringing them together for a joyful and uplifting experience.”

Preceding Selichot services at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis this year, singer/songwriter Michael Hunter Ochs gave a concert which included songs pertaining to this time of year about chesbon hanefesh (self-reflection) so we might make amends for our errors and improve in the coming year. During his performance he preceded each song with an interesting story of how he came to write it, but he also explained why music is so helpful in bridging the gap between people with differences.

Michael Hunter Ochs

Michael Hunter Ochs

“Music has a way of reaching and moving the heart before the mind realizes what’s happening. The right song, when sung from the heart, can enable us to feel compassion for someone we might even fear – and gives us the chance to uncover our common humanity. Once we are joined by the spirit of compassion, it becomes so much easier to talk about the tough issues on which we disagree.”

Besides being a good singer and songwriter, Ochs is a great entertainer and I could see how at a less solemn time he could really get the audience moving, singing, clapping, whistling and perhaps even dancing. With Debbie Friedman gone for almost four years, we need more performers like him.

After mentioning two different ways to bring peace to the world, we have to remember that one cannot really change another person, one can only change oneself. Perhaps the best way to bring peace to the world is by bringing it closer to home. That is what these holidays are about. It’s our season to look inward and see how we can make peace within, with those close to us. When we have inner peace, the world will be more peaceful. To aid with this I will leave you with an affirmation, “By being kind to myself in my own thoughts, I am blessing everyone else as well.”

Jennie Cohen 10-1-14

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