When William Meyer of Princeton, now 14, started looking for a project for his bar mitzva, he never dreamed he would find a global audience, courtesy of the State Department of the United States.
An accomplished musician, William discovered Arm Them with Instruments, a Chicago-based program that distributes gently used instruments to children in wartorn, poverty-stricken areas. A member of String of Pearls Congregation in Princeton Junction, Meyers became the first person to adopt Arm Them with Instruments as a community service project.
As a result, he was invited by the State Department to speak about the project with participants from Uganda, Indonesia, and Morocco, as well as the United States, via a Nov. 18 webchat on the State Department’s “Co.Nx” website.
William — who sings and plays piano and trombone, attended music camp, and performs in a jazz band — wanted a project that would resonate with that passion and his interest in global affairs (he plans to become a lawyer and go into politics).
Arm Them with Instruments is a project of Genesis at the Crossroads, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing together cultures in conflict through arts education and performance. Wendy Sternberg, originally from Highland Park, NJ, founded the organization in 1999 and left her private medical practice in 2008 to run Genesis full-time.
“Down-and-out, passionate youth in the world are pulled into things that are destructive on a global level,” Sternberg told NJJN. “We can take the same down-and-out person and convert their passion into something constructive through music.”
For his bar mitzva project, William developed a website (instrumentsacrosstheworld.com) and sent out magnets advertising his project with his thank-you notes for his bar mitzva in May 2008. His goal: to secure 30 instruments within the next year, to be distributed to children in Morocco, Iran, Jordan, and Egypt, where Sternberg already has contact with nongovernmental organizations.
William, who attended the I.L. Peretz Community Jewish School in Somerset, plans to create a video about the journey of one or two of the donated instruments.
Although so far he has only one instrument — the trombone he is about to replace — someone with a flute and a clarinet has expressed interest.
“People are interested, but the problem is, people don’t have instruments to give. It’s not like donating money,” he said. “You have to find a group with available instruments.”
So now he’s turning to classmates — especially those who participated in a school music program, bought instruments, and have since dropped out — and to the teachers who run the programs.
Sternberg, a member of a Reconstructionist synagogue in the Chicago area, cites her upbringing at the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth and its then religious leader, Rabbi Yaacov Hilsenrath, as an important early influence. In Hebrew High School, she said, “we used to pore over The New York Times and find things that were relevant to Torah and daily life,” she said. “We do that all the time at Genesis.”
His bar mitzva project may be having a similar impact on William. “This is enabling me to relate Jewish issues to real world issues,” he said.