Twenty-year-old Andrew Zakim has always been interested in politics. That interest together with a passion for Middle Eastern music has sparked a senior project that, if successful, will introduce a new generation of Arab and Israeli youngsters to music, and to each other.
A junior at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Recorded Music Program, with a double major in politics, Zakim, whose father hailed from Clifton, says that "music is a good way to approach changing opinions."
"A poll showed that 70 percent of Israelis feel threatened hearing Arabic," he said, explaining the drive behind his project, Notes for Peace, through which he hopes to create a summer music camp for Jewish-Israeli and Arab-Israeli youth. "Music pushes politics aside, especially for kids," he said. "In a camp environment, you’re not focused on identity but on the music."
"The idea just popped into my head," he said, noting that it began to take shape last summer when he attended an ulpan at the University of Haifa, a city known for its diverse population. "I talked to Israelis and Arabs in Haifa about it," he said, adding that the camp would "foster and encourage tolerance, understanding, and mutual respect among Jewish and Arab-Israeli youth, and introduce technologies and resources not widely available to youth of the region for the creation of music and the arts."
Zakim also wants to "raise awareness in the United States, Israel, and abroad about the importance of educating children about tolerance and the arts" and, if possible, secure financial support for the project so children can attend without a fee.
The NYU student is working with others in the university’s film and photography departments to identify activities that might help the Israeli children bond. In addition, he said, he is trying to put together a diverse advisory board that can help create a workable curriculum. The next step, he said, is to write grant proposals and identify possible donors.
Zakim said that "at the camp, children will live together, eat together, and learn together. The goal will be to disrupt the cycle of prejudice by building tolerance through artistic collaboration." He hopes that Notes for Peace will attract celebrity musicians, who will donate time to teach at the camp, "giving the kids a chance to meet some of their musical heroes, both Israeli, Arab, and foreign."
While Notes for Peace has yet to be incorporated or receive tax-exempt status, Zakim has reached out to NYU’s Hillel and Islamic Center, looking for support. He will return to Israel in January for the spring semester and, he said, will try to meet with members of Knesset, Israeli record companies, universities, and other people who could help the project.
"I really want to give these kids a meaningful experience," said Zakim, who travels to Israel frequently and spent March helping to rebuild northern Israel with the JNF Alternate Spring Break program. "I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great arts education here, but opportunities for musical and arts education aren’t as widespread in Israel as they are in the United States."
"If programs like this are introduced at an impressionable age," said Zakim, "in the future it’s possible that those kids who participate in [these] programs will be more inclined to question the things around them, which could lead to positive change. Teaching kids that they can live together, learn together, work and create together … might help to break down those walls when they are older. I really just want to give kids a chance to see things for themselves."
Notes for Peace hopes to launch its summer camp in ‘009. For more information, e-mail email@example.com