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Using music to bridge cultural divides

Northeastern music professor Joshua Jacobson brought together music from Arab and Israeli cultures on Sunday, conducting “Middle East Harmonies” at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge.

The concert included group and solo performances from Zamir, a Boston-based organization that builds awareness about Jewish culture through music and performance. Professor Jacobson founded the group in 1969 and is the artistic director.

At Sunday’s concert, Zamir performed choral selections in both Arabic and Hebrew. They were accompanied by the Dorchester-based Boston City Singers youth choir and the Israeli musical group Bustan Abraham.

At one point, all of the performers gathered in a circle and chanted prayers in Hebrew and Arabic. “The level of spirituality was just extraordinary,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson and other speakers, including Lori Lefkovitz, Ruderman Professor of Jewish Studies at Northeastern, also participated in a symposium at Northeastern’s Fenway Center that explored how music can be used to bridge cultural differences and create mutual empathy and understanding.

“This program made audible the capacity of music to negotiate borders in a medium that speaks through our shared humanity,” Lefkovitz said. “The metaphor of ‘harmony’ illustrates how people in conflict can also be in conversation, and that’s where there is reason to hope.”

Middle East Harmonies was sponsored by the Zamir Chorale of Boston, in partnership with Northeastern’s music department, the Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development, and the Consulate General of Israel to New England.

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