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Jews and Arabs Form Friendships Through Music

In Israel, music is bringing young people together and to make more than beautiful sounds.

Four young musicians – two Israeli Jews, two Israeli Arabs – perform under the name the Polyphony Quartet. The Israel-based Polyphony Foundation formed the group.

Revital Bendersky and Shir Chyat play the violin. They are Jewish. Palestinian Christian Feras Machour is also a violinist and plays the viola. Cello player Mahdi Saadi is Muslim.

Polyphony began in 2006 at a small school in Nazareth to bring classical music to Arab children. Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar is the founder and music director. He says the chance for classical music education was not available to Arab children.

“There was never a real, proper opportunity for young Arab children to learn classical music. And this is what we were able to change. We showed everyone that there’s no reason why an Arab kid shouldn’t be able to play classical music on a high standard.”

The school grew as teachers -- most of them Israeli Jews -- drove two hours from Tel Aviv to teach the children. Then, Polyphony was formed with two goals: further music education, and bring together young Palestinian and Jewish classical music students to perform.

Friendships developed among people who would have no reason to meet without Polyphony. Mahdhi Saadi says the experience made a major difference in his life.

"It changed all my thinking and how I see people, how to accept them and how to be accepted also. I never had the Jewish friend before, and I never thought that I will have."

Revital Bendersky feels similarly.

“I started looking at things a bit differently. And like Mahdi said, I never had Arab friends before, and it started only with Polyphony.”

The relationships grow and deepen through shared goals, as Mahdi Saadi describes.

"For example, rehearsals, we do rehearsals, we start to know each other more, and we start to trust each other in the concerts. In case somebody makes a mistake, we always need somebody to help us, to support. So, we are more as a family team -- a family music team."

The project's musicians visited New York City recently to perform. At New York’s Unitarian Church of All Souls, Polyphony Quartet played a piece by Mozart.

Among those listening were Craig and Debora Cogut, co-founders of Polyphony. Their financial support has expanded the program to train 130 teachers. And this year, Polyphony's music education programs in elementary schools and kindergartens are projected to reach 10,000 other young, Israeli Arabs.

I’m Caty Weaver.


Words in This Story

classical adj. relating to music in a European tradition that includes opera and symphony and that is generally considered more serious than other kinds of music

quartet n. a group of four singers or musicians who perform together

standard n. a level of quality or achievement that is considered acceptable or desirable

bit n. a small amount or piece

project v. to plan, calculate, or estimate something for a time in the future

Have you made ever made an unexpected friendship through a shared activity? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

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