Music fans dance at the ‘After the War’ benefit concert held in Jerusalem for Israeli and Lebanese victims of the war.Israeli musicians – both Jewish and Arab – came together last week in a smoky club in Jerusalem for an unusual kind of fundraising effort.
‘After the War’ (Acharei Hamilchama) was a benefit concert for civilian war relief aimed at helping victims of the recent conflict with Hizbullah on both sides of the border.
For the organizers, three young Americans living in Israel, helping both Jewish and Arab war victims was essential to expressing their human and Jewish values.
“Our hope was to raise a substantial amount of money to donate to those who are in need,” explained Daniel Siedarski, one of the event’s organizers, “and, further, to spread the message that it’s important to have compassion for all human beings, regardless of ethnic, religious, national lines.”
He credits the words of Jewish thinkers such as Samson Raphael Hirsch who said “You are obligated to feel as if all God’s creatures are your brothers,” as inspiration.
Sieradski came together with co-organizers Shimshon Stuart Siegel and Amy Fay Kaplan in mid-August to try to figure out a way to get involved in the relief efforts.
“We were coming from a desire to help and heal,” Kaplan told ISRAEL21c. The trio decided to pool their skills and contacts and put together a benefit concert of Israeli Jewish and Arab musicians.
Sieradski, who organizes a monthly Jerusalem hip-hop event known as Corner Prophets, enrolled local hip-hop artists Rebel Sun, Sagol 59, Saz and DJ Mesh for the event. He also reached out to electronic musician Ilya Magnes and Middle Eastern world music/rock band Eden Mi Qedem who were eager to participate as well. All the musicians agreed to donate their performances.
The goal of helping Lebanese communities struck a personal chord for 37-year-old Israeli hip-hop pioneer Sagol 59 (aka Chen Rotem) who was stationed in southern Lebanon for two-and-a-half years in the late ’80s.
“I come from the human standpoint, and I believe the least we can do is help innocent civilians on both sides, help rebuild lives and homes, regardless of the cause of the war,” he said.
Shmuel Nelson, leader of Eden Mi Qedem, believes that it’s important for Israelis to connect with the Lebanese who don’t necessarily identify with Hizbullah.
“It’s important to say we care about your losses” said Nelson before his set. “It’s important for them and it’s important for us.”
The only Arab-Israeli musician participating in the event was rapper Saz, (aka Samech Zakout). For the charismatic 23-year-old, participating in a benefit for both sides was an important statement.
“For me, as a Palestinian, if I can help anyone, not just Palestinians like me, but everyone that’s really in need, that’s the whole goal of everything, Israelis, Lebanese, everyone… A guy like me, who comes from racism, who comes from the whole story of what happened to my people, I cannot hate, I cannot let hate come to my house,” he told ISRAEL21c.
For Saz, music is a place where people who disagree, people who may even be enemies, can come together. “Together we have just one thing, and its called hip-hop, although we are strangers, we have one mother, and it’s called hip-hop,” he said.
Saz’ collaborator and friend Sagol 59 also sees hip-hop as an alternative means of expressing views. “I’m all for voicing opinions in an artistic manner. Hip-hop is always in the forefront of voicing social issues, controversial issues, problems with leadership. Hopefully we’ll collect as much as we can, give a good concert and make people more aware of what’s happening.”
Sieradski, Siegel and Kaplan focused their initial fundraising efforts on North American donors and raised more than $1,000 to pay initial costs such as travel expenses for the artists, and the cost of the venue and staff. Local restaurants and shops donated prizes for a raffle and Yellow Submarine, the club where the event was held, agreed to rent the space at a discounted rate.
In the end, eighty people attended the event, which raised about $1,000. The money will be divided between Israeli organizations Table to Table’s Northern Relief Campaign and an as yet undetermined organization working in Lebanon. Sieradski acknowledges the difficulties they?ve had in identifying an organization that can ensure that money intended to help Lebanese civilians will go directly to them.
“We’ve been dealing with this issue by working with American Jewish organizations that have already laid the groundwork in that department, checking with them for organizations they believe are legitimate and stable and reputable,” explained Sieradski. “It’s very important to us that we not be hasty in making a decision because we want to be sure that the money that we donate goes to the right people and is applied for the right reasons.”
Food rescue network Table to Table was a clear choice for the event’s organizers, who were impressed by the organization’s flexibility in responding to the evolving needs of civilians in the north. During the war, Table to Table provided thousands of emergency meals and tons of products to residents of Israel’s northern communities, as well as to residents of northern communities who had taken shelter elsewhere in the country. Half of the money raised by this event will be earmarked for their continuing Northern Relief Operation.
According to Sieradski, Siegel and Kaplan, initial response to the concert was mixed. Some members of the public were very supportive and respectful while others accused the trio of being naïve, or even of trying to aid the enemy. The organizers disagree.
“I recognize that there are times and moments when people are against each other,” says Shimshon Siegel. “But in spite of that, we are all ‘b’nai adam,?’ not only in the Hebrew definition of ‘human beings’, but we’re all children of Adam. And in this case we’re all children of Abraham as well.”
“We all have different opinions about the war,” explained Kaplan. “But the objective of the war was not to target civilians. The objective of the war was to target Hizbullah, and in having been part of causing damage as a side effect of the actual objective of the war, I think we can take responsibility for it.”
“The concept of this concert is, ‘Achrai Hamilchama’, after the war, what do we want this world to look like?” said Sieradski. “After the war we want the world to look like a place where people have compassion for one another regardless of who they are and where they come from.”