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Polyphony to present mix of Israeli musicians at JCC
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Polyphony to present mix of Israeli musicians at JCC

Program for young Arabs and Jews ‘bridges the divide’

Hagit Bar Sella, cello
Hagit Bar Sella, cello

A cello player who was born on a kibbutz and became a member of the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, an Arab violinist from Nazareth who has performed with international star David Broza, a violist from Jerusalem who has been playing since the age of 7, and an Arab violinist from Haifa who has studied with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman — this eclectic quartet will join together Sunday, Oct. 15, on the stage of the Cooperman JCC in West Orange.

The group is part of Polyphony, the brainchild of Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar, an Israeli Arab from Nazareth who founded the organization because he was troubled by the lack of exposure to music for young people in Israel’s non-Jewish communities. 

Its website says Polyphony’s young musicians “bridge the divide and foster a more civil society by bringing together Arab and Jewish children in Israel, through music.”

The four musicians coming to West Orange have been performing in Polyphony orchestras and chamber ensembles since its founding in 2011. Several hundred Israelis — Jews, Muslims, and Christians — have studied and performed under Abboud-Ashkar. Some, but not all, become professionals.

When they appear at the JCC, the quartet will perform classical works ranging from Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major and Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major to compositions by Israeli Arab Taiseer Haddad and Palestinian Fairuz-Ya Louru Hubuki.

The 3 p.m. concert is cosponsored by the JCC and Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston.

“It is not about Arabs and Jews; it is about the music, and that is the hallmark of Polyphony,” said Rabbi Clifford Kulwin, the congregation’s religious leader.

Kulwin, an aficionado of classical music, told NJJN he asked the JCC to host the program because “people just don’t think good serious music takes place in a synagogue.”

He believes the music will help unify people in ways other things cannot.

“The best way to bring people together is to give them a common objective,” Kulwin said. “You can’t bring people together just with talk. It is the music which brings them together.”

In 2006, Abboud-Ashkar raised funds to establish a conservatory in his hometown in 2006, assisted by Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim — cofounder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, in which Abboud-Ashkar played violin. Five years later he founded Polyphony. 

Its students, said Kulwin, “are like serious young musicians anywhere. They study hard. They practice many hours every day. Music is their passion.”

The Polyphony members who will perform in West Orange are: 

Hagit Bar Sella, 22, who was born and raised on Kibbutz Harduf, Israel. She has played her cello in concert in such varied places as Sao Paulo, Brazil; the United Nations; the 92nd Street Y in New York; and at music festivals in Spain, Switzerland, and Germany. 

Violinist Ibrahim Boulos, a 17-year-old 10th-grader at the Baptist School in Nazareth. A winner of an America-Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF) scholarship, he has performed with singer-songwriter Broza on stage in his home town, in Dallas, and in New York.

Jerusalem native Ella Bukszpan, 20, who switched from violin to viola at age 12. She has performed in master classes taught by Perlman and has been a member of the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Hisham Khoury, the group’s 27-year-old violinist, is a winner of a Haifa Foundation cultural award and a recipient of an AICF scholarship. He has performed as a soloist with the Jerusalem and Haifa symphony orchestras.

While the musicians insist that music, not politics, is their key objective, whenever Israelis and Arabs engage in peaceful projects together, the possibility of broader coexistence always enters the picture. “Polyphony is an example of what could be the future,” said Kulwin. “Wouldn’t it be great if we were watching the future on stage?”

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