Everyone is talking about tolerance these days, perhaps as a result in need to redefine "tolerance" in a world that has lost its innocence over intolerance and constantly tries to adjust to new realities.
I have come to realize the impact tolerance has on young people in reviewing submissions in the final stage of the "Gedenk Award for Tolerance", a national contest and scholarship program for middle and high school students to promote tolerance. Gedenk, a nonprofit organization, runs this creative program, in partnership with "Scholastic Art & Writing Awards", asking young students across America to create original works of art, digital media or writing that reflect upon the lessons learned from the Holocaust and other genocides.
In the past three years the "Gedenk Award for Tolerance" received thousands of submissions, created by talented young people. The submissions reveal that many students today are deeply passionate about promoting tolerance. The extraordinary works reflect the students desire to see more tolerance inside and outside the classroom, in a world that seems so connected, so small - yet so divided.
Promoting tolerance in schools?
Not an easy task! However, it is essential to include tolerance as a part of student's curriculum and educational experience. There are many different approaches when it comes to teaching tolerance to students and it is important to remember that young students are more likely to be receptive, retain and apply what they have learned when they are inspired.
Recently, I visited the Elisabeth Morrow Summer String Festival to give a music master class to 300+ young string players, ages 4 to 18 years old. We performed a song together: my original composition "Symphony of Brotherhood" featuring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his iconic "I Have A Dream" speech. I was welcomed to the school gym by an enthusiastic chorus of young students screaming my initials "MBA". I took a second to get to know them and to explain the power of music and how it can deliver a message, in this case: a call to action for tolerance. Then I performed the song for them. Afterwards, I asked the students if they would like to play the song with me, although it was clearly visible while looking at their eager faces. The power of music never ceases to amaze me with its ability to inspire, unite and connect people. Based on my professional experience, when a group of people becomes creative together, having to listen to each other in order to play in harmony, literally in this case, the outcome is very inspiring. That day in Englewood NJ, the diverse group of young students has realized the essence of Dr. King's Symphony of Brotherhood, and the sparkle in their eyes while playing their musical instrument together with me, was priceless.
Music is like magic. When people play together differences vanish and all that's left is a common ground and the sound of the music. Take my story for example: I grew up in Israel and moved to the US with a suitcase, violin case and (very) broken English, but when I got to jam with other musicians none of this mattered. During the master class I shared with the young students that "I wish the entire world could just feel for a second how it feels when you play music together, which is a true Symphony of Brotherhood."
Music speaks volumes and has the power to transform both musicians and audiences. I plan to continue promoting tolerance to students with the announcement of Gedenk's "50 States of Tolerance", an educational program touring 50 states taking place at middle and high schools to promote tolerance with a live performance, multimedia and class activities. "50 States of Tolerance" represents Gedenk's philosophy of utilizing artistic outlets, connecting to young people, thinking outside of the box and making tolerance relevant.
Photo credit: Micah Spayer