June 19, 2024
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New Jersey-Israel Commission Celebrates Black History Month With Historic Concert

(Courtesy of NJ-Israel Commission) In their first-ever Black History Month event, the New Jersey-Israel Commission celebrated the friendship and shared destiny of Black, Jewish, and Christian communities with “Symphony of Brotherhood,” a musical production created by Miri Ben-Ari, a Grammy Award-winning violinist-producer and member of the Commission, in collaboration with gospel performer Derrick Starks. The event was co-sponsored by the Commission and the Church of God in Christ, with jurisdictional leadership from New Jersey and Israel.

Special guests included New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and the Deputy Consul General Israel Nitzan of the Consulate General of Israel in New York, alongside Church of God in Christ leadership including Bishop of Israel Glen Plummer, New Jersey Third Jurisdiction Bishop Kevin E. Knight, Sr., Prelate of the New Jersey First Jurisdiction Bishop Martin L. Johnson, and Senior Pastor of Wells Cathedral Rev. James N. Williams.

The concert introduced a musical experience that fused spiritual gospel songs and Israeli melodies. The electrifying performance, led by Miri Ben-Ari’s soulful violin and the Symphony of Brotherhood Choir, directed by Derrick Starks, had the audience on their feet many times during the event.

Titled after Ben-Ari’s hit song “Symphony of Brotherhood,” which features rapper Flo Rida and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic speech “I Have a Dream,” the concert included special performances by Melonie Daniels and Dr. Pauline Plummer, founder of Covenant Daughters International.

In addition to her role on the New Jersey-Israel Commission and her award-winning performances, Ben-Ari, also known as “The Hip Hop Violinist,” is a “Goodwill Ambassador of Music” to the United Nations and a TED speaker. She is known for fusing classical, hip hop, and R&B, and has collaborated with many Grammy Award-winning artists.

The event, which took place on February 26 at Newark’s Wells Cathedral, formerly a synagogue, was open to the public and brought together over 500 people by bridging gospel music with sounds of the Holy Land, local performers, and lyrics celebrating the history of African Americans.

Through the music, performances, and remarks, the event demonstrated the importance of communities coming together in the moment to demonstrate unity during Black History Month and at a time of increased division around the country and the world.

“I am truly proud to lead my department, as a Black woman in the Murphy Administration, which includes the portfolio of the New Jersey-Israel Commission and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission,” said New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “I am a firm believer that we are stronger together when we can walk in one another’s shoes, and this event achieved that with grace, beauty and a spirit of unity.”

“I want to thank the New Jersey-Israel Commission for their commitment to honoring our past through the celebration and the unification of our Black, Jewish, Israeli and Christian brothers and sisters as we celebrated through music and solidarity at the Symphony of Brotherhood concert in Newark at Wells Cathedral,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “This event exemplified their commitment to our shared future, which will truly be defined by how we come together and support one another during our most difficult times.”

“It is so special to have songs like Oh Freedom! and Eretz Zavat Chalav U’dvash in the same concert. As a member of the New Jersey Israel Commission, I am grateful for this opportunity to build bridges between our communities and keep the conversation focused on love and friendship,” said New Jersey-Israel Commission Member Miri Ben-Ari. “I look forward to future events like this and to making a continuous positive social impact.”

“As antisemitism is growing at an alarming rate globally, it is vitally important that the Jewish community worldwide, and Israelis in particular, understand that the greatest majority of Black Americans stand with them – especially the Black Church, said Bishop Plummer. “Despite a heightened state of threat to the Jewish community, it was important for me to convene from Jerusalem, a gathering of Black church leaders in New Jersey, for what I called, “A Weekend to Bless Israel,” which culminated in a true symphony of brotherhood!”

“The symphony was an amazing and historic event celebrating Black History. Miri Ben-Ari, Derrick Starks, and the choir and dancers drove home the focus of the evening: unity in the communities,” said Bishop Kevin E. Knight, Sr.. “The universal language of music is a powerful catalyst that breaks down barriers and causes oneness between all races. I pray such was the case for all who attended.”

“Miri Ben-Ari’s music speaks to the very core of how music builds bridges and a spirit of connectedness at the time we need it most,” said Karin Elkis and Mark S. Levenson, co-chairs of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. “We applaud Miri, Derrick Starks, and the entire Church of God in Christ leadership for their dedication in bringing honor to such an important and groundbreaking evening.”

“Music will always remain a common denominator uniting people across this state and across the world,” said Andrew H. Gross, executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. “From the first moment of this initiative, the Church of God in Christ welcomed our office with open arms and stands as a testament to the common future we must continue to build together.”

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