Photo by Moshe Chitiyat
The Rana Choir in Israel consists of Arab and Jewish women.
This article is from The Branch, a monthly podcast that examines the individual relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. The branch is produced by Hadassah and founded by Dina Kraft, a Tel Aviv-based journalist. Sign up here to listen to episodes and be notified when new episodes are released.
JAFFA, ISRAEL – Tuesday evenings are choir practice evenings for the Rana Choir as well as for Lubna Rifi and Rakefet Lapid and their colleagues in the only choir in Israel made up of Arab and Jewish women. It is a holy time. They make a point of never missing out, it doesn’t matter if food is cooked on the stove or if kids ask for help with homework.
“You don’t miss Tuesday. You know it’s oxygen. It’s really oxygen, ”says Lapid.
But Israel has just gone through a war – another cycle of violence that they sing about and lament as an endless and merciless feeling. Two Tuesday evenings were missed because of the violence. It was too dangerous to meet. Instead, those nights and others spent in fear – in air raid shelters, safe rooms, or stairwells – during the eleven days of the fighting, wondering when airstrike sirens signaling another rocket fire from Gaza might sound.
Violence also erupted on their doorstep in Jaffa, with fist-to-fist clashes and other brawls between Jews and Arabs that were part of a wave of unprecedented violence on the Internet sparked by the wider tension and fighting.
The Rana Choir sings a range of songs, from lullabies to feminist tunes, but one song has become their anthem. It is a rendition of the traditional Passover song “Chad Gadya” in Hebrew and Arabic with a blow to the end of bowel surprise that causes anyone who hears it to face life’s sorrows in endless conflict – and him to question.
When I visited her in late April, fragments of the last two nights of conflict swept the streets of Jaffa. There were clashes between Arab youth and the police, and this spate of violence dominated the conversation among the women as they gathered before the training session.
What nobody knew at the time was that this violent outbreak turned out to be a harbinger of the street fighting and mob violence that followed in the mixed cities of Israel, where Jews and Arabs live together. The old port city of Jaffa, part of Tel Aviv, is one of them. In the worst case scenario, two Arab children were burned by a fire bomb that was thrown into the window of their building during the fighting in Jaffa.
Lapid and Rifi, who live in Jaffa like the other women in the choir, met in the soprano department and soon became best friends. At first glance, they seem like a strange couple – Lapid is a lanky, outspoken Jew, and Rifi speaks softly with a gentle, caring nature.
Photo by Mika Danny
Rakefet Lapid (left) and Lubna Rifi.
They explain that “Chad Gadya” came out of another time of crisis. It was 2008, the Rana Choir had just formed as a choir, and the women – Jews, Muslims and Christians who came from a mixture of socio-economic backgrounds and political leanings – were still getting to know each other. The first war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza had recently broken out and Mika Danny, the choir founder, decided they couldn’t sing the joyful Palestinian wedding song they wanted to learn. Instead, she pulled out Chad Gadya and started teaching women.
It is a version by an Italian composer and was translated into Hebrew by Chava Alberstein, a famous Israeli singer and songwriter. She had added a verse at the end that Danny found particularly poignant for the moment. In the verse it says:
“So what has changed for you, what has changed? I’ve changed this year. And in all of them [other] nights [of the year]On the other nights I only asked four questions. Tonight I have one more question: when does the cycle of madness end? “
The women sing the song, which deals with a circle of violence in Arabic and Hebrew, starting with the goat that was eaten by a cat.
Rifi and Lapid both see the song as the perfect means of addressing the conflict.
It’s about asking, says Lapid, “What the hell is going on? Why do we continue with this cycle of horror? ‘Chad Gadya’ was the beginning of saying, we say something with our singing, we say something with our sitting together. ‘
Rifi adds, “For me, even though we’ve sung it a million times, it’s the song to hold my tears every time we’re on stage because I can see people get emotional when they hear us and just to see the faces of the crowd and how they touch them. “
Through new texts and mastered harmonies, the women of the choir have built a community measure by measure, which is tied to their determination to sing and sing together despite so many divisions and hatred.
They still sing “Chad Gadya” because the endless cycle of bloodshed and harm seems to find another goat to devour. The voices of the Rana Choir rise in a call to action. To break free of our own complacency and numbness and look for a better way. One of listening and harmony.