Gospel music connects diverse Israeli populations

Members of the Reginald Golden Singers gospel ensemble perform during the First American Gospel Festival in Jerusalem, Feb. 6. Photo by Matty Stern
Members of the Reginald Golden Singers gospel ensemble perform during the First American Gospel Festival in Jerusalem, Feb. 6. Photo by Matty Stern

By Polina Levy Eskenazi

Embassy Jerusalem’s Public Diplomacy section designed a unique Black History Month program featuring the Reginald Golden Singers gospel ensemble, which visited Israel through the Bureau of Educational Affairs Arts Envoy program. The program included gospel workshops for local singers and musicians, as well as educational concerts for Jewish and Arab students from across the country. 

Students actively engaged in conversations with the American singers about the role of gospel music and spirituals in the African-American experience, including the anti-slavery and civil rights movement, and music as a vehicle for cultural exchange and as a universal language that connects people from different cultures. The gospel singers also offered a master class to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ankor Choir, a youth ensemble whose repertoire had heretofore been composed solely of classical music, at the prestigious Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Tel Aviv Public Affairs Officer Terry Davidson and Public Affairs Officer Stacy Barrios from the Palestinian Affairs Unit jointly greeted the diverse audience in Jerusalem, promoting the underlying message of unity and equality celebrated throughout the Black History Month. 

The pinnacle of the program was the “Sing Hallelujah!” First American Gospel Festival, produced by the embassy in partnership with the Rimon School of Music and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality. The two-day festival featured the Reginald Golden Singers alongside Israeli professional and youth gospel choirs. Deputy Chief of Mission Jonathan Shrier welcomed the audience at the gala concert, which included beautiful musical collaborations between Israeli and American singers that were the true highlight of the festival. During the week, more than 2,000 people saw gospel musicians and singers perform in person, while hundreds of thousands were exposed to the music through social and traditional media coverage of the ensemble’s visit. 

The blend of harmonious voices proved yet again that music and art know no borders. The uplifting sounds of gospel music, as well as its message of unity and joy, were warmly embraced by local audiences throughout the week. Even in times of extreme political divide in Israel, the Public Diplomacy section was able to create a positive experience for people of diverse backgrounds from across the country.

Polina Levy Eskenazi is a cultural affairs program assistant at Embassy Jerusalem. 

Video by Embassy Jerusalem

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