Arab-Jewish choir updates WWI pacifist song
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Arab-Jewish choir updates WWI pacifist song

Women strike a local, contemporary tone in response to last summer’s conflict

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

A hundred years after an American anti-war song became a popular hit, it is being sung again — only this time here in Israel by Arab and Jewish mothers who have had enough of violent conflict.

“I Didn’t Raise My Son To Be A Soldier,” originally released in 1915 to voice opposition to proposed American interventionism in the Great War in Europe, has been updated to today’s Middle East. The new version of the song, with its lyrics translated from English into Arab and Hebrew and a musical arrangement more reflective of local sounds and rhythms, is sung by Shirana, a Jaffa-based choir of 18 local Jewish, Muslim and Christian women.

Shirana (a portmanteau of the Hebrew and Arabic words for “singing”) is a program of the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, which was established in 1993 to bring Jews and Arabs together and educate them toward greater understanding and tolerance. According to the center’s deputy director Shira Zaban, AJCC is the only Arab-Jewish community center in Israel that is under municipal auspices, rather than run by an NGO. Its programs are funded by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality and donations.

The choir has existed for six years and gives several public performances each year. Recent performances have taken place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and at the joint Israeli-Palestinian alternative ceremony on Israel’s Memorial Day.

Although Shirana’s rendition of the Passover song Had Gadiya has brought it attention (a YouTube video of it has had more than 104,000 views), “I Didn’t Raise My Son To Be A Soldier” is its first professionally produced clip.

Shirana director Mika Danny chose the 1915 song by Al Pianadosi and Alfred Bryan for the video. Her new arrangement focuses on the chorus:

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,

I brought him up to be my pride and joy,

Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder,

To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?

Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,

It’s time to lay the sword and gun away,

There’d be no war today,

If mothers all would say,

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.

“The choice of this song has great meaning,” said Zaban. According to her, the clip is more a response to last summer’s Operation Protective Edge than a publicity-generating effort for the choir.

“This song is very humanistic,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if we are left wing or right wing, or if we are Jewish, Muslim or Christian. We are all mothers and we don’t want our boys to die anymore.”

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