By Gil Hoffman
Jewish and Arab students throughout the Western Galilee were given the opportunity to learn from and listen to American violinists, who were led by Gary Levinson, the artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth and senior principal associate concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony.
“This may be the one language we can agree on,” Levinson said. “They all want to make music beautifully, and they all listened with bated breath.”
The delegation also included musicians Sarah Price of Fort Worth and Ilana McNamara, as well as Kim Goldberg, who has been chairwoman of arts and community in the Partnership 2Gether consortium. A team led by partnership director Judy Yuda put together their itinerary to maximize their time in Israel.
The musicians performed three concerts while they were in the region. The first paid tribute to supporters of the crowdfunding campaign that the partnership initiated to raise money to bring opinion leaders from consortium communities to Israel to experience the Western Galilee’s diversity and multiculturalism.
In the second concert, Levinson and top musical students from Akko and the Matte Asher Regional Council performed for Western Galilee residents.
In the final multicultural concert in Akko, the visiting violinists performed to celebrate multiculturalism and coexistence in the Western Galilee.
They also led four masterclasses with both Arab and Jewish students in Akko, Matte Asher, Rosh Pina and the Arab town of Tarshiha.
Levinson said the concerts were very different from each other. For instance, the crowdfunding donors were not used to musicians performing in such a small setting.
“They were shocked by what a great experience it was to have an intimate concert,” he said. “It was a great pleasure for me to introduce them to that kind of experience where they can feel the energy.”
McNamara, a 17-year-old high school student in Omaha, said she enjoyed playing with Jewish and Arab kids who are her age from the Western Galilee’s Keshet Eilon Music Center.
“This has been a great experience,” she said. “I have never done an international concert series before. Every time we played, we wished it was for longer. It was so great that I can’t imagine it could be even better.”
But that is exactly what Goldberg and Levinson are planning to do. Goldberg said that after this delegation, they know better what needs to be done and how they can be more effective. They are working on a follow-up trip in October 2019 and a three-year plan, in partnership with the Western Galilee’s municipalities.
“When we come back, we will do what we didn’t have time to do,” Goldberg said. “Now that we understand what our strengths are, we can reach out to more students. The soil is very rich for this.”
The trip was the idea of Goldberg, who decided to match Levinson with Akko conservatory head Danny Yaron.
“When I saw Gary’s passion, I knew when they got him and Yaron together, magic would happen,” she said. “It seemed to be the perfect fit to get Gary here, engaged with students. I’m always thinking of making connections. It most definitely succeeded.”
Price said the highlight for her was getting to perform for different audiences than they are used to having and getting to meet people from different cultural backgrounds.
“We didn’t know what to expect in the Middle East,” she said. “Everyone was so warm and friendly.”
One highlight for all the participants was meeting with Holocaust violinist Amnon Weinstein, the founder and promoter of the Violins of Hope Collection of instruments from the Holocaust. Weinstein let Levinson play the decades-old instruments; he usually performs on a violin that was crafted in 1726.
“The partnership provided a platform for all these connections, which wouldn’t happen without the Jewish Agency putting aside money and allowing connections to happen,” Yuda said.
She pointed out that some 500 people were touched in one way or another over the weeklong tour by the delegation, which was funded by the 14 consortium communities.
Yuda was touched by a quote from Noa Tenne, the head of the partnership community committee, who wrote her after the final concert, “I am astonished every time anew from the opportunities the partnership offers and the possibilities of making connections between the communities.”
Levinson said he enjoyed teaching the children of the Western Galilee how to listen and that hearing and listening are not the same thing.
“They can communicate with different language and a unified goal,” he said. “That’s why I prefer the language of music. I’m not pretending that this visit will make or break the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we can’t know the answer if we don’t try.”
This article was first printed in the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission.