The arts have constantly been a reflective motive on the zeitgeist of humanity. When there is political turmoil in our world, be it revolution, social changes, elections, etc., humans have always used the arts as an element of political persuasion, a type of progressive push towards equality and harmony. Harmony; one of the key structures of music, is one thing that has not been overlooked in the mind of conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim’s mind. Barenboim, 70, was born in Argentina to Russian-Jewish parents and quickly rose to fame as a virtuoso pianist. His fame, furthered by his marriage to virtuoso cellist Jacqueline Du Pré, has led him to be one of the foremost figures in the classical music world. He has played with all of the world’s greatest orchestras either on piano or as maestro, not to mention his consideration for artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, arguably Europe’s best symphony-orchestra.
All this publicity through his life has led Barenboim to establish himself, as many others in his musical field have, as a humanitarian. He aims to branch equality, peace, and freedom to all peoples; this perhaps far fledged idea is one at the core of music – at the core of art in general. Political movements often rise and fall, but art seems to work and mold society in different, more subtle ways. Barenboim was the first person to conduct Richard Wagner (praised composer of Hitler and the Nazis) in Israel. Rabble-rousing is part of Barenboim. He founded the East-West Divan Symphony Orchestra, recently on tour in New England, which is entirely made up of Arabs, Jews, and Palestinians. Barenboim, along with influential Palestinian political theorist Edward Saïd, founded the Orchestra in 1999 in order to bridge awareness, political action, as well as a role model for the inevitable coexistence of Arabs, Jews, and Palestinians in one of the world’s most war-stricken and socially divided areas.
The Middle-East has been stricken for centuries the influx of Western ideas and conflicting ideologies (at home and abroad) caused by the never-ending process of globalization. Muslims are in combat against the changing tides in politics, social organization, and religion. One could even state that the Holy Land is as holy as it is war-stricken. Though Israel is considered among the majority of the Muslim populace as a sore point, the idea that two states, a Palestinian one and an Israeli-Jewish one, is a growing grass-roots idea and movement. With national interests and the United Nations’ support, two states, Palestine and Israel, are a difficult idea for many politicians to stomach. But is it?
The lobbying organization J-Street has been an active movement with growing momentum in the United States as tensions turn to conflict over the question of Israeli treatment of Palestinians, and assaults committed by both sides increase. Barenboim, like people before him and currently, is an artist-politician. His ideas spread messages through the world through music, through the idea of cohesive harmony. Like virtuoso cellist Mstislav Rostropovich playing at the Berlin Wall as it was torn down, Pianist Sviatislav Richter, Yo-yo Ma, Gil Shaham, and others, all the musicians seem to be able to transcend language, politics, and culture, which enables them to work together with different people from different parts of the globe to make a cohesive harmony — an effort towards union.
Student activists countrywide are taking up the banner of J-Street U. This is an off-branch of the Washington lobbyist organization focused at at the college and university level, with its largest constituency being in the Northeastern United States. Wheaton is an active college, a politically aware one; with this tradition in mind, several freshmen, Rafael Fields, Daniel Altman, Samuel Sproule, and myself, Nick Sterner, are working hard to organize the creation of a J-Street U. chapter on campus in order to initiate a proactive two-state solution discussion campus-wide.
Artistry and political action go hand in hand. What is art if it is not the crux of imagination, change, and difference from reality? Through imagination, harmony and hope, J-Street U. and the idea of a two-state solution it represents will be established here at Wheaton. Progress is most certainly not easy, but it is essential for us, students, to assess and change our world for the betterment of humanity. That is the goal of J-Street U.
For more information on J-Street U., please contact any of the above listed members via e-mail.