Music Heals the Soul for Children in Southern Israel
Every weekday, Yuval, a 10th grader from Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the Gaza Envelope, makes his way to the Sha’ar HaNegev Music Center, located nearby. When he sits down to play at the beautiful new grand piano, his fingers fly over the keys, his body moves to the music, and the sound he creates enthralls anyone within earshot. It’s hard to believe that this prodigy has only been playing the piano for four years. It’s even harder to comprehend that if it were not for the existence of the center and the opportunities it affords the region’s children, Yuval’s talents would never have been discovered in the first place.
“I’m so happy that we have a new grand piano,” said the young teen, smiling bashfully. He points to an old piano that has seen better days. “This one has been here for so long that it’s great we finally have the new one.”
For the children who live in the Sha’ar HaNegev, Sderot, and Eshkol region, the new instruments recently gifted to the center by generous Jewish National Fund-USA donors enrich their lives significantly and, more importantly, provide a soul-nourishing environment to the often-tense reality that comes with living on the border with Gaza.
A Tool for Transformation
Phyllis Solomon, of Marlboro, NJ, a member of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Gaza Envelope Task Force recalled the performance of two young girls playing a Vivaldi violin duet at the opening of the Resilience Center in Eshkol several years ago, that first planted the seeds of the idea to open a music school in the region.
“There we were, in the Gaza Envelope, feeling this new rhythm of stability, this sense of balance,” she said. “Music has an element that can transform the desert into a magical place. We witnessed that spark, and so it inspired us to fill this area with the most joyous, melodious sounds.”
As part of a more comprehensive project started by the regional councils of the Gaza Envelope and supported by Jewish National Fund-USA, children from local elementary schools visit the center once a week and, in groups of five, learn to play wind instruments and the new piano.
“It’s because of the organization and the supporters from the U.S. that we were able to make dreams come true,” said Neta Ben Asher Yekutiel, director of the Music Center. “Trombones, which we haven’t been able to teach for ages, got a place of honor in our project, and 15 children are now learning to play this instrument. The grand piano that was bought, thanks to Jewish National Fund-USA donations, dramatically improves the quality of lessons. I do not doubt that all our pupils—from oldest to youngest—feel the huge difference compared to when playing our old one.”
Music Calms the Soul
According to Ofir Libstein, the head of the Sha’ar HaNegev local council, in addition to developing talents and skills, music also contributes to the ability to concentrate and calms the soul.
“Music significantly helps develop resilience in children, especially those dealing with security incidents,” he explained, referring to regular rocket attacks, air-raid sirens, and terrorist threats experienced by residents of the region.
“For this reason, our Music School is important to the region’s children. The significant contribution made by our friends at Jewish National Fund-USA allows our children to fall in love with music.”
Solomon recalls that when the Task Force first approached Jewish National Fund-USA CEO, Russell Robinson, about opening a music school, he encouraged them to “think big.”
“Why one?” he asked. “Why not three?”
Solomon explained that it became the task force’s mission, together with Jewish National Fund-USA’s Arts and Entertainment Task Force to bring “all things music” to the region. This mission continues until today, resulting in meaningful projects such as purchasing new instruments for the children of the Gaza Envelope to enjoy.
“The concept of expanding, composing, and developing new sounds in this area will not only enrich the lives of its residents but will provide for a greater percentage of the heaven we often refer to in the Gaza Envelope,” said Solomon. “We look forward to hearing all the sounds that will resonate and echo when we arrive in April to celebrate Israel at 75!”
Tania Michaelian is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.