Dancing on the Limits

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 An Interreligious Dialogue Between Two Religiously Observant Israeli Music Teachers

 

 

Our book chapter documents a rare interreligious dialogue between a male Muslim and female Jew. Through a series of collegial conversations we explored our lived experiences as religiously observant music educators teaching music in religiously observant communities within contemporary Israeli society. The data presented here, collected and analyzed through conversation and dialogue, opens a unique window to the actual lives of two music educators working within two different, but similar, settings. The act of collaborative research in itself expresses our commitment to challenging local norms of socio-religious segregation.  The findings we present express many common themes of experience that opened up new doors of mutual understanding and identification for us as colleagues and as co-researchers.  We hope that colleagues from around the world will benefit from our mutual exploration.

Having grown up within opposite religious spectrums of Israeli society – Belal in the Muslim village of Arraba, and Amira in a Jewish religious neighborhood of Jerusalem, – we first met as graduate students in Levinsky College's M.Ed program in Music Education. By the time we met, each of us had developed an extensive practice of music education within our respective religiously observant communities. Following our M.Ed certification, each of us pursued doctoral studies in Music Education, even as we continued our field work. Today, in addition to working within our communities, we are both employed as music teacher educators at Levinsky College. For us, college campus is a rare location where a Jewish religious woman and Muslim man can sit down, drink coffee – or share pita-bread – and converse. Such a sight may seem impossible or ludicrous in many other locals and contexts in Israel.

Throughout the study, Belal's shared experiences as both a music educator and an active musician in his Muslim community. Working as an elementary school teacher, Belal is also involved in general education and teacher professional development in his community, and other Christian-Arab and Druze communities in Northern Israel. Belal also performs regularly with both amateur and professional ensembles of many types and styles, in his community, around Israel, and abroad. Amira's experiences for this study were based on her work as music coordinator and teacher in a Jewish National Religious boys' high school for music, alongside her work in the Ultra Orthodox women's music teacher education program at Levinsky College. 

Sharing Soundscapes

One major theme that emerged from our study was the professional musical lives of our respective alumni. We both confessed that what some of our graduates do musically and culturally, we ourselves must continue to abstain from in order to continue to influence future generations. Musically speaking we found interesting parallels in the integration of Eastern and Western influences in respective Jewish and Arab alumni ensembles. As music educators, we acknowledge the personal and cultural authenticity emerging in graduates' musical careers, and take pride in the new soundscapes we hope to have contributed to cultivating with students we have encountered in our community practices. Here is a taste of some the ensembles established by past students of each of us:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belal is proud of graduates who have established international musical careers. In one case, a graduate's musical choices that gained him international recognition angered his home town of Majdal Shams. Belal recognized that his own openness as a music professional allowed him to expose students to many musical styles and genres that go beyond community acceptance. As a teacher, Belal is committed to such musical openness that later allows graduates to choose for themselves. While Belal himself takes caution not to anger his community, "dancing on the limits", he realizes that opening students up to broad musical influences can lead them to make their own choices of limits as they become professionals in their own right. Amira shared in Belal's sentiments for his graduates, having experienced similar developments with some of her own alumni. 

It is in this spirit that we entitled our collaborative book chapter “Dancing on the Limits”, as a metaphor for the educational and cultural work we are pursuing and embodying within our communities. As music teachers living within religious communities we oscillate between being insiders and outsiders. When successful, as teachers, we are able to reinterpret traditional religious dictates, expanding musical presence and practice in our communities. In doing so, we intricately expose gaps between traditional religious dictates, philosophical mindsets of each religion, and contemporary practice.

We hope our commitment and exemplification of collaboration in interreligious dialogue will act as an example and resonate hope towards understanding in and between our communities. 

-- Belal Badarne, Tiraspol University, Chisinau, Moldova; Levinsky College of Education, Tel Aviv, Israel &
   Amira Ehrlich, Boston University, USA; Levinsky College of Education, Tel Aviv, Israel