New Heartbeat

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
March 12, 2015

Israeli and Palestinian teens challenged the Bradley community to help chart a peaceful future for the Middle East at a March concert on campus. Heartbeat, an Israel-based youth band, uses music to build community across centuries-old cultural divides.

The high-energy hip-hop, rock and modern folk concert featured original songs that expressed the hopes and fears of youth who live in constant fear of discrimination, terrorism and war.

“We need humanity to come together, shift the way we think about survival and take care of people who don’t have freedom or a place to imagine what freedom should be,” said six-year Heartbeat member Guy Gefen. “We see the need for compassion, some kind of moral ground and a way of being. People are ready to be brave and imagine things.”

The band began in 2007 as the Fulbright-mtvU project of Aaron Shneyer, who wanted to use music to foster dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth. Since then, Heartbeat has expanded to two high-school bands and two college-age bands.

Band members spent hours learning to relate to their alleged cultural enemies, and then they were tasked with making music together. The process forced students to honestly confront fears and prejudices they’ve learned.

“Across the board, musicians transform attitudes toward the other side and gain critical awareness of what’s going on around them,” Shneyer said. “Music is the creative space to imagine how to work together for the way things are supposed to be. It’s empowering for young people to learn how to write songs as they discover their creative ability.”

During the concert, band members worked through those fears and prejudices with pointed lyrics questioning wars, military action in Gaza and cultural attitudes. Despite tensions and contradictions expressed throughout the concert, the youth expressed a yearning to rise above circumstances to be peacemakers in their homeland.

That honesty received frequent applause from the Bradley audience, which lingered long after the concert to meet, encourage and hug band members.

“It was amazing that two different cultures could dialogue and share the stage together,” said James Ghareeb ’16, of Dunlap, Illinois. “They told me this month on tour is freedom from the pain of their homeland. I shed a tear knowing they’ll have to go back and live in that atmosphere.”

Muslim Student Association President Haroon Zahid ’15, of Peoria, wanted the concert to spark conversations on campus.

“I’m hoping this eventually fosters an environment where we can get up courage to talk to each other,” he said. “It’s not about changing opinions, but creating a place to understand.”

Heartbeat’s concert introduced activities for Fulbright Week, which will be March 25-27. The event was co-sponsored by the Fulbright Advisory Committee, International Affairs Organization, Muslim Student Association, Bradley Hillel, Institute of International Studies, Department of Political Science, Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service, Peoria Area World Affairs Council and Jewish Federation of Peoria.