My message to the Israeli ambassador: Put down your weapons, and negotiate in good faith

Last night, the Klezmer Rebs performed for the Hanukah party in Wellington’s Civic Square.  I felt particularly elated to be playing Klezmer music in the main square of my home town, a thriving multicultural city that has gone from strength to strength in the thirty years that I’ve called it home.  Props to our Mayor Celia Wade-Brown for inviting the Jewish Community to celebrate in the square.

The main organiser of the event was the Israeli Embassy.  I have never been happy with an embassy organising what is essentially a religious event, for complex reasons which will be articulated in a future blog post.

The Klezmer Rebs collectively, and I personally have been very uncomfortable with the recent actions of the Israeli government, and we feel that there has been no measurable progress toward a sustainable peace, due in significant part to a lack of leadership by the Israeli government.  So we took the opportunity to make a political statement directly to the Ambassador, Shemi Tzur, in our introduction to our medley of peace songs.  I wrote the statement, and the band helped me revise it.  Here’s what I said:

Mr Ambassador, I’m glad you implored people earlier today to pray for peace, but we need more than prayer – we need action.  Praying, singing and dancing for peace aren’t enough; bringing about peace, and overcoming decades of counterproductive attitudes and actions is very hard work and requires individual and collective leadership and commitment from everyone including the Israeli government.  The time has come to tell your Government to show that leadership, put down your weapons, and seriously negotiate in good faith to bring about peace.  Bombing civilians and building settlements on land whose ownership is in question is not good faith.  Fulfil the words of Isaiah, and show that Israel is called into righteousness as a light unto the nations.  The time is now.

Prior to making that statement, I called to Shemi by name from the stage to make sure he was paying attention.  He was standing directly in front of the PA, and I looked him in the eye as I made the statement.  Today’s DomPost ran an article on page 2 (print version only) entitled “Peace plea made to Israeli envoy at Hanukkah Concert”, which said that “… Mr Tzur said via a spokesman he had not heard the message and had no further comment”.  All I can say is that this is an indication that the Israeli government is either disingenuous, pathologically deaf, or both.

We feel it is important that the Ambassador and his government hear this message from Jews.  Many of us abhor the actions of the Israeli government, and feel that successive governments since 1967 have let down their citizens, the Jewish People, and the world through their inaction and lack of leadership to address the fundamental issues that need to be resolved to create a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Several people came up to me after the concert and congratulated me for the courage to make such a statement publicly.  Only one person approached me, my cousin, and admonished me for making political statements on behalf of the Jewish community at a public event. Nowhere had I purported to be making statements on behalf of anyone, other than myself and the band, but I do know that there a large segment of the local Jewish community agrees with the statement that I made.

We are at a turning point.  Some would say that we are beyond the point of no return, but I am a perennial optimist and know that with enough good will and political pressure, we can make real progress toward peace.  And if they can’t hear us, perhaps we need to turn the volume up.

The Manawatu Standard gives The Klezmer Rebs rave reviews

Stephen Fisher posted a fabulous review of The Klezmer Rebs playing the Palmerston North City Library in today’s Manawatu Standard:

While we may have become used to the sounds of live music drifting through our city library, it is a long time since we have been treated to such a lively and spirited performance as that which the Klezmer Rebs provided yesterday afternoon.

Undergoing a revival, Klezmer is traditionally celebratory Jewish music, and, although frequently instrumental, vocal lines and song titles are usually in Yiddish. Flexible in its lineup, yesterday’s concert was by seven members of the Klezmer Rebs, who are largely Wellington based.

It was an evocative mix of clarinet, violin, trumpet, trombone and helicon accompanied by piano and guitar or mandolin, giving us a characteristically authentic sound that set one’s primal musical spirit a dancing.

All of the group joined in with vocals as appropriate as they selected much of their programme from the established Klezmer repertoire, their arrangements reflecting traditional style, while allowing the creativity of these talented instrumentalists to add their own distinctive interpretation to the music.

The music celebrates the many facets of life itself and the Klezmer Rebs brought joy and vibrancy to the performance, giving the music a captivating urgency that could not fail to set the heart and soul soaring.

While there was musical excellence on display from all members of the group, the clarinettist was Urs Signeur, who made a significant contribution to local music during his year as an exchange student in Palmerston North nearly 10 years ago. Apart from giving us some stunning clarinet solos, this talented young man also composed several numbers for the group, his work characterised by much inventiveness while still capturing an authentic style.

While it must be expensive for such a large group to travel around the country, I hope it is not too long before the group makes another appearance in our city as it was obvious that the infectious joy of this music captured the hearts of the large audience gathered in the library.

Can it get much better than that?

Mouse Music

Our Klezmer Rebs bandmate Amanda MacLean has just produced this surreal music video.  She plays the helicon for us, but in this clip she sings, plays trombone, and does a great job acting.  Go Amanda!