Ukuleles for Peace

If music be the road to peace, play on!

By Rolene Marks

In the town of Tir’a in central Israel, a group of teenagers have gathered for a rehearsal. Over the cacophony of greetings in both Hebrew and Arabic, the strumming of a tiny instrument can be heard.

The humble ukulele has been “instrumental” in bringing together teens from Arab and Jewish backgrounds and the result is not just the creation of beautiful music, but the building of bridges that ultimately will lay the foundations of peace in this part of the world often mired in conflict – and mistrust.

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Paul Moore with his ukulele: “This instrument saved my life.” (Photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yishuv)

The brainchild of musician, Paul Moore, who was fed up with the situation after the Second Intifada, Ukulele’s for peace aims to bring together children from different backgrounds who can find common ground by doing something creative and unifying – playing music together.

“I thought that if peace was possible between Israel and Egypt and Jordan then perhaps the same could happen with its Palestinian neighbours. Israel has a dynamism that is extraordinary and I felt that I had to either leave or do something. The hatred had to stop”, says Moore.

Moore is a vibrant personality. Dressed in beach chic short, his sartorial nod to his passion for the ukulele is the lei tucked around the brim of his hat. A seasoned performer, Moore is dedicated to helping build positive bridges between people and what better instrument than the ukulele. Small and easy to use (it only has 4 strings) ukuleles are very versatile and as a result, there is a burgeoning global ukulele movement.

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Strike A Chord. Arab and Jewish kids find common ground through music.

Paul Moore’s love of the ukulele coupled with his experience and passion for performance sparked an idea. What if he brought children from opposite sides of the conflict and creates a space where they could get to know each other – and play a little music.

The result was the birth of Ukuleles for Peace in 2004. Moore’s dream was that the children would really integrate into each other’s lives and become friends, not just live parallel lives.

How did it all start?

Moore approached the mayor of Tir’a and in literally a day, found a cooperative partner in the Democratic School. And so Ukuleles for Peace was born. Parents became involved because after all, it was them who were doing the major schlepping with carpools and lifts. Initially, some of the parents were resistant to coming to Tir’a but the project has become such a communal success that families meet up for picnics, holidays and recitals.

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‘Moore’ The Merrier. In 2004, Paul Mor, a musician originally from England, suggested to the headmaster of the Democratic school in Ramat Hashron, to teach children in his school to play the ukulele. At the same time he persuaded the headmaster of the el-Zahara school in the Arab town of Tira to open a class there. The project caught on quickly and soon there were classes in both schools for children aged 8 to 18.

Ukuleles for Peace hasn’t just shared joy through music – it has created real and lasting friendships between children who under different circumstances would never have had the opportunity to meet each other.

Singing in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Ukuleles for Peace has grown beyond the neighbourhood of the Middle East. The groups which through the years have been about 11-12 strong have played at schools, different towns, coexistence events, Holocaust survivors and autistic therapy.

This has also taken these talented and open-hearted youth overseas to play in places like Hawaii, Croatia, Italy, Poland and Georgia. It is proof that the even the most humble instrument when paired with the greatest intentions, can bring much needed positivity to the world.

It is not only the children that have benefitted from friendships – but their parents as well. During our visit to a rehearsal in Tir’a it was hard to see who was having more fun – the parents or the ukulele band!

“It is a joy to see these children blossom as musicians and performers,” says Paul. “I would love to turn up at the United Nations and just simply play our Music to them as a statement of what is possible words seem to only divide whereas music unites us all in harmony” he continues.

It is evident as the music flows seamlessly from Arabic to Hebrew and then to English that Paul Moore’s dream of bringing children together to know and appreciate each other’s cultures and build friendships that it has come to fruition.

Ukuleles for peace is living proof that the foundations of coexistence and peace will be built from the ground up through every day interactions between people. There may even be ukuleles involved.

 

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Give Peace A Chance. Different cultures; same desires – Arab and Jewish school kids embracing the future together.

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