In the weeks since my journey has come up in conversation with various friends and strangers, I’ve come to instinctually hold a breath in wait for their inevitable responses, which in one of 2 phrases is delivered with some passion. “Wow, that’s exciting!” or “What are you, crazy?!”
I don’t think I’ve directly answered any one of them out loud, yet in truth the answer to both is “Yes!” Yes, I’m excited about the journey that will begin with a long crowded flight that plays uncomfortable tricks on the mind and body. Yes, I look forward to the relative stillness as we travel literally through space and time to give undivided attention to the mission at hand. I recall the food on Turkish Airlines to be very good… so that’s also something. In my life that is reliably full and hectic and diverse, I am drawn to this window of opportunity to immerse fully in the momentum of this work.
To those who ask, “Are you crazy?” I might well respond, “More so than you know.” The experiences of my last two entries through Israeli customs were enlightening by all means. My last name is Najimy, which is undeniably Arabic. Lebanese to be exact. "No, I have not been to Lebanon." "No, I don’t have contact with family still living in Lebanon." "No, I can’t recall the name of my grandfather’s birthplace." "No" to the other questions that might have offended, discouraged, humored, or enraged me.
My decision to lead this tour did not come lightly. After much consideration and due diligence to be informed and aware of current tensions and risks in the region, and with eyes, mind and heart wide open, I discovered that the journey that has led to my being faced with this decision at all, is precisely the reason I am compelled to do it.
2014 marks my 7th year with Music In Common (MiC). Todd Mack approached me in 2008 with the story of his mission to strengthen communities through music to honor the life of his friend and band mate, Daniel Pearl. What began as a backyard jam in 2005, had evolved at that time into a tour of 17 FODfest concerts in 18 days on the east and west coasts of the United States. That adventure was my initiation. It was magic.
Todd's inspiration was reverence for how his friend lived and to speak out against the very public atrocities that claimed Danny's life. The many artists' and audiences' motivations seemed to come from their passionate faith in the power of music to heal. Mine was a conviction that we are all in this together and that our stories shared in a collective creative process is a path to making a better world. Whatever it was that brought each of us to this work has fueled an unstoppable momentum to implement music and multimedia to positively effect change in people and in communities. Since that time we have toured and developed programs with youth, artists, organizations and communities in the U.S., Taiwan, Israel, and Palestine.
To say I am proud of our work, or that everyone should support these efforts, or that I am involved in something profoundly meaningful, or even to claim this is my passion, all seem to be trite and self-serving rhetoric. I do this work not because I am an Arab, not because I am not a Jew, not because of any political or religious convictions, and not because I have anything in particular to offer. I do it because I am a human being and this is ultimately the human spirit of love, compassion, and connectedness at work.
This summer MiC hosted our first International Youth Summit at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. This was an ambitious and challenging endeavor, intensified by its direct timing with active conflict between Israel and Gaza. After nearly 2 years of planning, in the weeks leading up to the Summit we questioned if we could actually pull it off. Our team in the U.S. and in Israel struggled and juggled with logistics, students’ and parents’ fears, cultural tensions, programming, and concerns for safety. Yet fueled by our collective mission & motivation, we prevailed!
The students together chose to write a song about their vision for how personal change can lead to global change. Their song and video, “The Change We’ll Bring” reflects their own belief in the power each of us has to initiate an alternative, non-violent solution to conflicts in our own lives and in the world.
The community was incredibly supportive and welcoming to the MiC Delegates, greeting and interviewing them, hosting and facilitating events, discussions, dinners, and a concert. A documentary crew came by to produce a short video, "Harmony In Tragedy", that was featured on Huffington Post. All of this acknowledgement moved and inspired these young people tremendously, knowing that their time, effort, and song had already touched people. They were justly recognized for their contribution toward a better world.
As we said “Salaam, Shalom, and Peace” on the last day one delegate said,
We feel it is our responsibility to carry this message forward and to cultivate the seeds that have been sown. We are planning more of these cross-national programs in the U.S. and in Israel for 2015. But for now back to the trip at hand.
When the time came to consider if I would not only make this trip but to lead it, I first took time to check in with myself to see if I was prepared to take on the inherent complex responsibilities. My role as the Arab also played a significant part in this decision. Todd Mack is a Jew, both of our staff in Israel are Jewish. If we are seeking to promote cross-cultural unity then our own cultural balance truly matters. It inherently strengthens and validates our very foundation in ways that all the peace-talking video-making good intentions can’t reach.
I recalled the delegates I had met and come to love this summer. I looked at photos and reread their notes asking when they would see me again, Habibi. I wondered if their experiences have stayed with them and in what ways? I felt a pull to find out for myself.
I also thought a lot about my Dad during this process and looked to him for guidance. With my Dad’s illness in 2012 and death in January 2013, I was not capable of taking on the emotional, mental, and physical intensity of MiC’s two trips to Israel in 2013. Both of my parents have always been faithful advocates of Music in Common and believed in the impact of all aspects of our work. My Dad was a man of quiet strength and unassuming service to others. He is the reason I am Arabic. He is the reason I am not a terrorist.
I am dedicating this trip to Dad and his legacy of love and service to others.
Our objectives for this tour are twofold. We will bring five MiC Youth Songwriting and Multimedia Programs pairing among 11 Jewish and Arab schools. I will also film for a short documentary, recently funded by a supportive and generous donor to Music In Common. This is an incredible opportunity to reconnect with the Youth Summit Delegates and to have them illustrate the tangible impact that has evolved from these projects over the past 10 years, from a backyard jam to a non-profit organization providing a platform for making peace through music in the U.S., Israel, and Palestine. This project will continue when we return and is schedule for completion in April 2015.
So, yes I am cautiously excited. In so many ways this journey has been well underway for years and to disembark now would the crazy part. Wish us well.
We also invite you to follow Music In Common on Facebook.
Tax deductible donations to support Music In Common's work can be made at Music In Common’s website.
PEACE * SALAAM * SHALOM ~ L
In addition to sharing random musings, Beansprouts Blog will offer ideas, tips, strategies, and reflections on multimedia production, social media, and other insights.