Antigone Rising: Dispatches from the Holy Tour – Part 2

When we received word that some of our favorite out rockers, Antigone Rising, were taking their tour to Israel, we thought it would be really fun to have them do a little tour blog for us. I mean, how often do you get to experience a different country through a band’s eyes? Thankfully, bassist and resident Tweeter Kristen Henderson was psyched on the idea and jumped in head-first to bring us: Dispatches from Holy Tour 2012.

Dena Brings Drum Therapy to Beit Issie Shapiro – Ra’anana Thursday 02.23.12 (Dena Tauriello)

In addition to playing shows for the people of Israel, the State Department also asked that we perform workshops throughout the course of our trip. After getting wind of my being a certified drum therapist, they asked if I would do some sessions at Israel’s largest and most-pioneering developmental disability facility, Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.

I was briefed just prior to beginning the sessions — I would have severely autistic children. They didn’t speak or understand English. I felt a little nervous since most of my work has been with children on the autistic spectrum, such as high-functioning autistic, PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), Aspergers and, most commonly, ADHD, with children who could easily understand my instructions.

These children were painfully impaired — so much so, that my speaking fluent Hebrew would not have made for an easier session. Some could barely hold the sticks and others simply couldn’t at all. Some had difficulties moving one of their arms and were not able to coordinate moving their legs, certainly not simultaneous to arms, which is a common course of the therapy.

Most common with this population is their incredible difficulty looking anyone in the eye and being able to listen to and follow directions. It was incredibly challenging getting them to do a fraction of what I asked them to do. More often than not, I had to physically manipulate their limbs to try to give them an understanding of what was being asked of them. And they still could not repeat the task. Again and again they were unable to do what was asked of them. But there were a few who, in the face of their consistent struggles, continued to smile their way through the entire experience. I stood in front of each seated child, asking them to perform an impossible task to them. But time and time again, they tried. They struggled. They failed. And they continued smiling.

As I was getting ready to leave the facility, I was presented with a plaque with photos of the session, which read the following:

Thank you for visiting Beit Issie Shapiro and sharing the magic of music! We appreciate your friendship and thank you for caring. With love from the Special children, families and staff of Beit Issie Shapiro.

I cried. But having been touched by these children, in their spirit, I will leave Israel smiling.

Second Leg of Holy Tour – The West Bank 

Day 1: West Bank – Friday 02.24.12, 6PM (Kristen Henderson)
We gather in a conference room at the Ambassador Hotel, East Jerusalem with Cindy and Vin from the US Consulate General’s office for our security briefing. We make note during elevator ride that there was no need for a security briefing during the Israeli portion of our tour. We grow silent from jet lag and contemplation. But mostly jet lag.

Cindy and Vin are both so cute you could squeeze their faces. As they speak I start wondering how these consulate workers ever meet someone to marry, as they travel every few years from one volatile country to another. I think their lives are crazier than ours, that’s how crazy. I’m jolted back to the conversation as they reveal the protocol in case of an emergency evacuation from one of our scheduled events.

“It’s never happened in the two years I’ve been here, well, actually it did happen once. But never while we were out with Arts Envoys, and it actually turned out to be a false alarm,” Cindy relays to us with confidence and a nervous giggle that indicates she might be worried she’s scaring us to death. She finishes the thought, “If a security worker does grab you, don’t look back. We will handle your equipment.”

Okey dokey.

Day 1: West Bank – Friday 02.24.12, 7:30PM 
Welcome Reception/Jam Session with Antigone Rising and Palestinian musicians from the region (Kristen Henderson)

Cindy and Vin tell us we’ll be heading to their boss, Frank’s, apartment for a party and jam session. Our gear will be set up and ready for us and Frank’s wife has cooked up a storm for the party. I start feeling jet lagged and like I wish we had the night off. Then I walk into the apartment and meet Frank. Somehow within two sentences of our conversation, Frank, Cathy and I realize we were all born in the same exact hospital in Glen Cove, New York. We are standing in an apartment in East Jerusalem. My jet lag passes instantly. I’m back in the moment loving every second of my experience, double dipping my falafel in the hummus and drinking Palestinian beer. Born in the same hospital on Long Island? That. Is. Cray. Cray. C’mon.

There is a Palestinian rap group called Zero Hour sitting together eating and drinking in the living room. They are speaking in Arabic and intimidate the s— out of me. Our band is clumped together on the sofa and I decide we can either isolate ourselves in exhaustion and shyness or we can have the full monty experience. I walk over to the intimidating rappers and say hello. They’re dressed in traditional rapper garb, baggy jeans, big heavy chains around their necks, ski hats on their heads. They look at me surprised that I approached them. I can’t remember what I said, but the next thing I know Nini Camps is by my side inviting Adley Arafat, AKA “Skulls Father” to sit in with us to bust a rhyme during “Who Knows What Tomorrow Will Bring.” 

Kamal, a producer from American Idol in the United States, is at the party. He is in East Jerusalem helping the US Consulate produce a program called Ghaneeha, now in it’s third season. Ghaneeha is the American Idol of the West Bank. Kamal lights up at the thought of us mashing it up with Zero Hour. He tells me they’re a politically charged group, and I get the impression it’s not in a U2 sorta way. 

We take the stage and call Adley up. I felt an instant connection with this kid, I can’t explain why. I just loved him from hello. And now he’s up on stage with us trading verses – he in Arabic, us in harmonized English. We have no idea what he said. I’m sure he had no idea what we said. When we were done, we fist pumped. He told us the group had to leave the party because they were from Nablus, on the other side of the wall, and they had to meet curfew. My eyebrows screwed around in confusion. I grabbed him before he left and, really quite naively said, “I’m a mother. I have a three-year-old son and daughter at home. I think it’s a good thing that you and your friends use art to convey your message of frustration over your situation in the West Bank. But please be careful because you have a mother that loves you and now we love you too.” 

“Skulls Father” looked at me and giggled. He knew I had absolutely no idea what his life was like, and I’m not even sure he understood what I said. But in that moment we were connected as friends, as “artists in a cultural exchange,” and he gave me a huge hug as a driver from the Consulate General pulled him away to get him home in time.

Someone later explained to me that there was a wall built around the West Bank in 2000. I must have been busy drinking margaritas at Henrietta Hudson’s while that was in the news cycle. So, now I’m learning. Zero Hour was out on a 12 hour pass granted to them by the US Consulate to attend our welcome reception, but they had to return by curfew, which was 11PM. My head spun a bit trying to catch up with what it must feel like to be carted back to your own side of the wall by curfew. In 2012. 

When we got home later that night, Nini and I skyped home. It was seven hours earlier in New York and our families were together celebrating my daughter Kate’s third birthday. Our kids were more interested in playing with each other than talking to their moms in the West Bank, so we made my Dad follow them around with an iPad camera and we watched them play for a half hour. Then we went to sleep in our Ernie and Bert twin beds in East Jerusalem. 

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