Ten years ago, the idea that a vibrant Jewish cultural scene was important to our community was frequently met with a look that said, “Are you crazy? Since then, the tone of those conversations has evolved from skeptical to curious to committed. Today, Jewish leaders are actively exploring the most effective ways to use the arts to foster community, identity and understanding,  

Last week, during JArts’ artist-in-residency with Argentina’s acclaimed Lerner & Moguilevsky, we witnessed some of that power. We saw how the arts can excite day school and college students, celebrate multi-cultural diversity and bring schools, synagogues and community groups together. 

But one particular moment stood out and reminded me of the simple yet profound power of a song. It happened at a Framingham State University Latin American culture class taught in Spanish. In the spiritual space of the schools’ Ecumenical Center, the artists demonstrated how their music is shaped by the cultural diversity of Buenos Aires. After one song, a student shared how deeply it touched her and she asked about its history. They explained the song was performed on accordion and a duduk, a traditional Armenian oboe-like instrument. The student, now crying, responded, “That’s why I was moved! My dad is Armenian and I know very little about his heritage and my mom is Jewish. That song is me.”

What better way to capture the power of the arts. Whether it’s a song or story, a play or poem, a mural or movie, art touches us like nothing else can. It makes us cry, laugh and think. And when we share that moment with others, it becomes a profound reminder of our shared humanity.  

The test of great art, Jewish or not, is its ability to get us to say, “That’s me.” And also, “That’s us.”

Find photos from the residency here, and listen to a live recording of “La Serena,” a Ladino song from the 12th century here.

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