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The Languages We All Share

Recently my friend Micah Hendler hosted a gathering in support of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, a group he founded that brings together Palestinian and Israeli kids to sing together and build relationships and mutual understanding.

Those of us gathered, including JYC graduate and Executive Director Amer Abu Arqub, sang together in Hebrew, Arabic and English, led through harmonies by the uniquely talented Micah, with whom I've had the great pleasure of working previously. He also led us in a discussion on what we were taking away from the experience, which included some comments about using STEM programs for similar goals.

It got me thinking about the many languages we use to bridge divides. Micah's program brings together young people from very distinct cultures, some of whom don't understand one another's spoken tongues. But music—and Google Translate—gives them a bridge across their differences, upon which are built great friendships.

Humanity shares countless languages that go beyond just direct communication. Music, art, science, math, sports. Even things like humor, which points out the experiences and the frailties that we all share.

At a time when we're losing the ability to communicate with each other politically—as evidenced by our increasingly tilted vocabularies, in which words mean totally opposite things to each of us and are constantly weaponized against our opponents—we must do everything we can to retain our other shared languages.

We can already see the conflict spilling over into these pools of shared meaning. We feel it viscerally, in the current battle between cliques of stand-up comics, that we're losing the ability and the will the laugh at the same things.

The answer to this is a re-cultivation of shared spaces, where those shared languages can strengthen. Micah's organization is a great example of this, and it's one of the reasons I believe so strongly that organizations are the key to our civic renewal.

The Jerusalem Youth Chorus is fairly close to the Toquevillian ideal of citizens joining together for the shared benefit of their communities, but the mutual gravity of shared goals can extend to organizations well beyond nonprofits, to educational and religious institutions, businesses and government agencies. With those shared goals tend to come share languages developed to achieve them, and we can't let those fracture the way our political language has.

Let's keep cultivating those spaces and tongues and cultures we share. Let's keep getting together face-to-face as much as we can. Let's gather around the fire, the microphone, the microscope, and the conference table, to talk about what we'd like to achieve together. And let's keep talking.

Now please enjoy the Jerusalem Youth Chorus' viral musical rendition of Home.


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