Sunday, June 14, 2009

From Alabama to Ramallah

Ramallah is fortunate compared to other locations in the West Bank due to its proximity to Jerusalem and the passage into Israel proper, which means that it receives a good deal of international visitors and artists. Featured this morning at the Beit al-Hiya al-Jadid (the Home of New Life) was the Voices of Mobile, a choir from the University of Mobile in Alabama. I was told last week by Rev. Munir Salim Kakish about the performance and was very interested in seeing them.

The religious service was very similar to what I have seen in some evangelical churches in America, following Rev. Kakish's education in New York. Raised arms, intermittent "amens" from the audience, congregational singing of hymns replete with lyrics projected on a screen via Powerpoint were all features of the service, which was delivered mostly in Arabic but with some English for international visitors.

The choir was able to set up the tour through familial connections according to Alan Miller, the associate dean for the Center of Performing Arts in the University of Mobile. After visiting Jordan and Israel they were wrapping up their tour in the West Bank, and then going to perform in Paris. While at the church they sang such hymns as "I Surrender All," and appropriately for the West Bank, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho."

I was able to speak with a few of the choir members after the concert. One of them, Maggie, talked enthusiastically about her shared religious experience with Arabs. "We're singing the same song but not in the same language and it's incredible to worship the same God with these people. I love them and would love to learn Arabic so I could have conversations with them."

Another choir member, Britney, said that she had gained a heightened awareness of relations between religions. "I think for me the growth of Islam in America is very intense, and I've become more aware of Islam." I asked her to elaborate. "There is so much of it here...and just...I pray for the Christians here, and for Jerusalem and for peace. Because we as Americans just don't understand the tension here." She was disputed by the Rev. Kakish, who doesn't believe there are such problems between the Muslim and Christian communities here.

Miller said that the choir has been appreciative of the sincerity and graciousness of Palestinian Christians, though there hasn't been much interaction between the choir and people here. "Americans are spoiled, we have too much, we choke on our blessings. We come to the Holy Land and see these people who are so gracious. It just helps us to take our music inward even more."

1 comment:

  1. Suby, how do you choose which performances to visit?