Princeton concert links Muslims and Jews

Princeton concert links Muslims and Jews

Gabriel Meyer Halevy and Indian vocalist Priya Darshini sing and dance at the Nov. 16 concert.
Gabriel Meyer Halevy and Indian vocalist Priya Darshini sing and dance at the Nov. 16 concert.

The Israeli-Argentinean musician and peace activist Gabriel Meyer Halevy says his music and social justice work were inspired by his parents, Rabbi Marshall Meyer and Naomi Meyer. 

His late father, who revived the dying congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York, later moved to Argentina, where he started a Conservative rabbinical seminary and revitalized Jewish life there.

Gabriel’s mother was instrumental in starting a summer camp in Cordoba, Argentina, where their son was born. During the country’s “Dirty War” of the 1970s, when the military government led a deadly purge of leftists and political dissidents, Gabriel stood with his father against the generals and in support of the “disappeared.”

“Since I was born, I was imbued with a sense that justice, action, and art are one and the same,” he told NJJN

Those varied strands came together once again this month at Princeton University, where Meyer Halevy and his intercultural band led a performance titled “The Human Project.” 

The Nov. 16 event, which raised $830 for Syrian refugees, was planned jointly by students from the Social Justice Committee of the university’s Center for Jewish Life/Hillel and the Muslim Advocates for Social Justice and Individual Dignity (MASJID) of its Muslim Life Program.

The concert was supported by diverse academic, religious, and social justice programs at the university. Proceeds are going to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Syrian Orphans Organization, and Church World Service. 

Princeton University’s Jewish a cappella group, Koleinu, opened the concert. 

The idea of doing the concert jointly came when Ya’arah Pinhas, the Social Justice fellow at CJL, approached Sohaib Sultan, the chaplain of Muslim Life. Four students from MASJID and two from CJL planned the concert together, with lots of support from Pinhas. 

“There are a lot of social justice groups emerging within the religious sphere on campus,” said Farah Amjad, coleader, with Rachel Lurie, of the event’s planning group, “which I think goes to show that students are really connecting in their religion or spirituality with the larger desire to do justice and social justice work on campus and in a wider context on what is going on in the world.”

Activists from both religions had already sponsored events on refugee issues. MASJID raised $7,000 at a benefit dinner during the festival of Eid. The CJL’s Social Justice Committee, which separated from the CJL’s student board last year to increase opportunities for students in the area of social justice, hosted a sukka discussion in the fall about the Syrian refugee crisis. 

“We wanted to relate the issues of refugees to our legacy as a Jewish people and also to the holiday of Sukkot,” said Lurie, a sophomore and leader of the CJL’s Social Justice Committee. “Sukkot is about bringing someone into your home, and it is also about our legacy as Jewish people — a lot of our ancestors came to the United States because they needed somewhere to go because they were Jewish; our own history gives us the responsibility to act when something like this happens in the world.”

At the Nov. 16 concert, Lurie welcomed Meyer Halevy as someone who shared the students’ “sense of justice and concern for world peace” in the face of 12 million displaced Syrians, half of them children, of whom about four million have become refugees internationally. 

The concert, Amjad added, represented an effort “to fulfill our moral obligation to the most vulnerable in our world.” 

Meyer Halevy travels the globe performing, leading workshops, and facilitating interfaith and multicultural gatherings. His performers hail from Uruguay, Argentina, Bombay, Israel, and Washington, DC.

“What we all have in common is that we are all human, part of the same human family,” he told the audience. 

Since moving to Israel in 1993, Meyer Halevy has become involved in both spiritual and political work. He started doing “ritual theater,” which he described as “putting prayers into art,” and then “retreats and gatherings to create a new sort of Judaism in Israel.” 

“I am trying to renew and rehydrate different pluralistic ways of Judaism,” he told NJJN. “The thread was transformation of myself and of the collective, and bringing the message of Israel and social justice.”

Amjad appreciated the chance to collaborate on planning the concert. “We can push aside our differences and at least come together on an issue people really care about, like vulnerable people in international situations like refugees,” she said. 

Deborah Schleim, president of Jewish Graduate Students and Young Professionals, is studying the history of medicine in the Islamic world in Princeton’s Near Eastern Studies department. She came to the concert to support the refugees, but said she was also fascinated that the band sings in Urdu and Arabic (as well as Hebrew, English, Sanskrit, and Spanish). 

Alexa Pugh, a senior at Princeton, has been involved academically with the refugees. “I study France and their diversity and immigration issues,” she said. “This summer I was looking at organizations in France helping Syrian refugees.”

Lurie said she was satisfied that the event succeeded in conveying “the message we were trying to convey: this idea of peace and bringing different people together.”

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