Do you have one of those days when you see things so clearly all of a sudden. True it doesn’t last, and yet for a brief moment or two, you are so certain about the way to a better and more peaceful world. My most recent lightbulb moment came after I attended a documentary screening of “Knowledge is the Beginning.” To be perfectly honest, the film had me at the title! But that was only the beginning…
The ninety minute documentary most certainly relies on the inescapable power of some of the best classical music pieces being beautifully performed and subsequently captured on video. This particular content is a video producer’s dream. Not much one can do to ruin a beautiful audio track! But here’s the best part: the documentary portrays the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a unique group of musicians, made up of Israeli, Arab and Palestinian youth, ages 13 to 26. Led by two men of equal charisma and passion, the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said and the world renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim, the group has been performing around Europe and the Middle East for the past decade. During their travels from Weimar, Germany to Seville, Spain, the documentary brings us a hefty dose of their rehearsals, engaging conversations with Said and Barenboim, and little glimpses from some of the young participants, pulled together during their collaborative summer workshops. One young woman from Syria talks about how it’s about time they came out and talked about their versions of history without letting the great powers take over the narrative. Not surprisingly, the frank and honest discussions among the youngsters themselves are a rarity and seem unnatural at times. Hence my comment during the question and answer was a bit on the skeptical side. “The real question is what happens in these youngsters lives when they’re back in their own worlds, outside of the safe and inspiration-laden atmosphere of these wonderful workshops” I remarked. It is truly inspiring to witness these talented and intelligent youngsters “work” on something difficult and challenging like a Beethoven symphony and then coming together to perform it in front of world audiences, but then what?
Then I came home and going through some of the weekly papers around me, I came upon a news report from Ramallah, West Bank, titled “Purging hate from textbooks.” Here’s the first paragraph: “Hala Mohammed, a tiny fourth-grader with an impressive knowledge of Palestinian history, has never met an Israeli and never wants to.” So I sat there reading the entire article and all I could think of was the soundbite from conductor Barenboim telling the story of one young Palestinian he had met in Ramallah who had told him how happy she was to meet him because he was “the first thing she’s seen from Israel that wasn’t a soldier nor a tank.” And that’s when I said to myself: “Yeah, I did love that film after all, that Knowledge is the Beginning.”
So next time you feel a sense of cynicism and “been there-done that”ism coming on, I suggest a daily dose of inspiration from the arts. It will do you good…trust me, I know!