Hanukkah Music for the World We Want to See


For the fifth night of Hanukkah this year, Tzedek Chicago will be celebrating with a radically new kind of Hanukkah concert. At this season we are invited to increase the light and envision the miracle of a world of freedom and justice - and at this particular moment, we can think of no better way to celebrate this world than by affirming the sacred connection between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

With our Hanukkah concert, "Songs of Light" we will be bringing light to our season by presenting music from different religious traditions that are bound together by a common Middle Eastern culture. To this end, local musician Steve Gibons (violin) has brought together some of Chicago's finest Middle Eastern musicians, including Ronnie Malley (oud, voice), Rami Gabriel (buzuq), George Lawler (percussion) to play music from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Yemen and elsewhere, including composers from Islamic, Christian, and Jewish backgrounds. This amazing ensemble will be joined by Tzedek Chicago's music leader Leah Shoshanah (guitar) for a truly unprecedented concert of sacred music that has rarely, if ever, been performed for the public. 

According to Steve:

Jews have been living in diaspora for millennia, and music that Jewish people have made throughout this time includes genres from a richly diverse group of cultures, customs and traditions. Yet, the music that we here in the US know as "Jewish music" derives largely from European, Israeli and American sources, and while there's much beauty to be had, we're missing out on material that comes from other regions that Jews have called home.

In this Hanukah concert we play popular and liturgical music from communities whose Jewish population has diminished and in some cases completely disappeared – Morocco, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Lebanon – countries where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths lived as neighbors and called themselves Arabs, or Persians, or Babylonians, depending on the era and the region.

As most of this music will come from Arab countries, we particularly hope to shed some light on the common culture of Arab Jews, Muslims and Christians. Indeed, this culture has been subsumed in modern times by the establishment of the state of Israel - that has introduced a false binary between "Arab" and "Jew."

As Ella Shohat - an Israeli scholar of Iraqi origin - has pointed out:

For our families, who have lived in Mesopotamia since at least the Babylonian exile, who have been Arabized for millennia, and who were abruptly dislodged to Israel 45 years ago, to be suddenly forced to assume a homogenous European Jewish identity based on experiences in Russia, Poland and Germany, was an exercise in self devastation. To be a European or American Jew has hardly been perceived as a contradiction, but to be an Arab Jew has been seen as a kind of logical paradox, even an ontological subversion. This binarism has led many Oriental Jews (our name in Israel referring to our common Asian and African countries of origin is Mizrahi or Mizrachi) to a profound and visceral schizophrenia, since for the first time in our history Arabness and Jewishness have been imposed as antonyms...

Our history simply cannot be discussed in European Jewish terminology. As Iraqi Jews, while retaining a communal identity, we were generally well integrated and indigenous to the country, forming an inseparable part of its social and cultural life. Thoroughly Arabized, we used Arabic even in hymns and religious ceremonies. The liberal and secular trends of the 20th century engendered an even stronger association of Iraqi Jews and Arab culture, which brought Jews into an extremely active arena in public and cultural life. Prominent Jewish writers, poets and scholars played a vital role in Arab culture, distinguishing themselves in Arabic speaking theater, in music, as singers, composers, and players of traditional instruments. 

Our concert will take place on Saturday, December 16, 6:00 PM at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Hyde Park. Tickets are $10.00, children 12 and under are free. You can register here. For more information, click here

This Hanukkah, please Join us in celebrating the world we want to see. We look forward to seeing you there.