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Brave Women with a Powerful Song

The Israeli “Rana” Choir, consisting of both Jewish and Arab women, sings an anti-war song based upon a text dating from the First World War – this interpretation gives you goosebumps. I did not raise my boy to be a soldier” expresses their shared hope that their children shall experience a future of peaceful coexistence. If only women from differing factions discovered their common ground and stood up for their vision! IrespectU is pleased and excited to present their video clip on our website.

Perhaps you once had a similar experience: You meet someone whom you have never seen before. You nevertheless have the feeling that you have known such person for ages. The personal chemistry clicks immediately and you recognize that you both even have the same sense of humor … I experienced exactly this when I first met Mika Danny in a bistro in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Zedek. There she explained to me how she came upon the idea to establish a women’s choir in Jaffa nine years ago. A newspaper article previously had caught my interest, and as I absolutely wanted to learn more about this unusual initiative, I had sought to meet her.

“I wanted to take some kind of action against the sad reality in our country, the hatred and the hopelessness. To set a positive counterpoint, beyond going to demonstrations or just complaining,” Mika emphasizes. Leaving Israel is not a serious alternative for her. “This is my home. My family and friends live here, I need contact to my roots.” And she would like to preserve these roots for her children, who sometimes lose hope that a peaceful coexistence between the different ethnic groups can ever be realized. Her statement sounds quite understandable in my ears, also from an emotional point of view – a similar dilemma has been expressed to me by many other Israelis.

“In a choir one must mind the other choir members, one must harmonize together, this seemed a good starting point.” Today the ensemble has 20 members, 10 Jewish and 10 Arab (with a Christian and Muslim mix). Not only do the women differ from the religious perspective, but their political leanings as well as their occupations are very diverse. Graphic designer, hairdresser, psychologist, administrative clerk, teacher… “Such a heterogeneous group is usually only found at a doctors’ waiting room, Mika jokes. Only their love of song is common to all, and they gladly meet at least once a week for two and a half hours to pursue this love. Public vocal performances by women cannot be taken for granted in the Middle East, as they provoke misgivings in the conservative Arab as well as in the orthodox Jewish communities.

And there are further obstacles which must be overcome: Mika‘s husband Hanan supports her as much as possible, but not all husbands or family members are agreeable that their womenfolk have direct and cordial social interaction with the political “enemy”. Yet the Rana Choir has become a tight knit group which has survived two Gaza wars, not to mention many other crises. When in spring 2016 an American student was killed by a Palestinian in Jaffa Port near their rehearsal room, they still met the next day to practice. “It was the best we could do. Singing together helped us to quell our pain and sorrow,” Mika remembers.

The musical repertoire of the choir contains songs in Arabic, Hebrew, Ladino, Yiddish, Persian and Greek, most in new arrangements created by Mika herself. She has opened up to new musical influences and underwent further musical development through her involvement in Rana Choir; some of her more recent compositions, for example, contain Arabian elements and harmonies, for which she had no feeling or understanding before.

This union of women usually performs at shows which reflect the cultural diversity of Israel. But they also present their songs at events which promote a better understanding between Jews and Arabs and bring their message across. On the occasion of Remembrance Day in 2016, for example, they were part of an event which not only commemorated fallen Israeli soldiers, but also all victims of the conflict. In a country where the ongoing armed conflict has left both factions with deep wounds and where the different-minded can quickly be labelled as “traitors”, such surely was a courageous decision.

Therefore, the choir, whose name “Rana” is Arabic and means “song, has operated as a fully independent initiative since 2016. The vocalists want to decide for themselves where and when they would like to perform. This also means that no financial support is to be expected from public authorities. Idan Toledano, artistic director and the only male on board, dedicates much time and effort to this challenge. Newspaper articles and television reports have called public attention to the choir, and hopefully such activities shall assure its continued existence.

The core message of the Rana Choir is impressively presented and summarized in English, Arabic and Hebrew in the video, which can be found under the second photo on the right side above: “I did not raise my son to be a soldier

After 13 years of experiencing life in the Middle East, it seems to me that initiatives like the Rana Choir are the most promising way to bring about mutual understanding. Individuals directly interact at a personal level, foster their similarities and endure their differences. For these reasons IrespectU has decided to support this project and wishes it every success.

Video: I did not raise my boy to be a soldier

Mika Danny

Al-Bahr Mosque, Jaffa

Rana Choir with Idan Toledano

St. Peter, Jaffa

Jaffa Port

Seafront towards Tel Aviv