Jewish-Arab musical comes to UK

By Jessica Elgot, March 15, 2012
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Haifa students, both Jews and Arabs, have embarked on an ambitious joint project - and they are bringing it to the UK. Around 40 young Arab and Jewish Israelis have written their own musical, based on the Broadway show A Chorus Line.

Their version, Step by Step, is performed in Hebrew, English and Arabic, and set on a bare stage as members audition for a new show. It takes place in an "ideal Israel", where Jews and Arabs live peacefully together.

The students come from Haifa's Leo Baeck Education Centre's Carmelim Dance Troupe, and a school in Ein Mahal, an Arab village close to Nazareth.

Dany Fesler, chief executive of the Leo Baeck Centre, said that the students had originally gone on a trip to the States through the "Friends Forever" scheme, which pairs up teens from conflict zones.

"They went to New Hampshire, lived in the same house, cooked together, went hiking, volunteering and gave talks about their experiences. They came back totally different. They wanted to keep their friendships going, and do a project together."

Now, he says, "they are creating something onstage to describe the conflict, to show the differences and how we are bridging them. It's changing their lives. They influence their families, their peers and everyone is asking about it. It's wonderful to see."

Mr Fesler said that the students' own concerns and prejudices could be heard in the dialogue. "We hear their own fears coming out in what they have written, fears about terrorism, bombings, fears about the IDF, the conquerors, and being a minority."

The UK show will take place on April 22 at West London Synagogue. The show has been sponsored by Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue.

The performers are thrilled to be coming to London. Lina Abu-Leil, 17, said: "We are so excited. I want to send a message about Jewish and Arab people, that our country is not the only thing we have in common. We have had a wonderful six months. I never expected to meet my best friend here."

Her Muslim family have been very supportive of her building bridges. "I was raised by a very open-minded family; both my mum and dad are happy for me to have my own dreams and make my own decisions.."

But some families have found it more difficult, said Leah Levy, 17.

"My mum is really supportive of the project, but my dad isn't. But he told me I was old enough and smart enough to make my own decision. He is supportive enough to give me the choice. I think this is a really special way to get the message that we can work together, we don't just have to talk about politics. We can just be together and be normal, without fighting, just singing."

West London's senior rabbi, Baroness Julia Neuberger, said: "I couldn't be more proud for our community to play host to these remarkable young people, who, by their very participation in this project, set an example for the wider Middle East and beyond".

Last updated: 3:31pm, March 15 2012