I was witness to a miracle last week. Really. It was one of the most powerful and profound moments I have ever been privileged to experience and it touched me so deeply that it brought tears to my eyes. I was reminded of what the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides once said about the nature of miracles. Maimonides, or Rambam as Jewish tradition always calls him was the ultimate Aristotelian Jewish rationalist of the 12th century and he had a remarkable ability to balance the theological expectations of a thousand years of Jewish tradition and his personal rigorous intellectual demands for integrity at the same time. When writing about the phenomenon of miracles in the world Maimonides wrote, “Miracles do not come to demonstrate what is impossible, but rather to show what is possible.” That was exactly what happened to me last week – I experienced the miracle of the possible.
My experience of the miraculous took place at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus courtesy of the messianic vision of a young Jordanian pianist named Zade Dirani. I met Zade when he burst into my office a couple of months ago with his 1,000 watt smile and enough enthusiasm and charisma to sell the proverbial ice to Eskimos. He was eager to share with me his life story and the vision that had propelled him from Amman, Jordan where he was born and raised, to Boston to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and ultimately to dream that one person can use music as a way of changing the world. He asked for my help to connect with others in the Jewish community and I was happy to help in any way I could.
Zade is a remarkably talented composer and pianist who has already released three acclaimed CDs which have all made it to the Billboard charts featuring his unique blend of Western jazz and classical styles with the rhythms and melodies of his Middle Eastern roots. But it isn’t his CDs and compositions that create the miracle of which I speak. It is his ability to transform his personal traumas and our national tragedy into a source of inspiration, hope and peace for the world.
Four and a half years ago on the night of September 11, 2001 he was scheduled to perform one of his many “Living room concerts” in rural Maine. The tragedy of the terrorist attacks against America postponed his concert for two weeks and when he arrived for his rescheduled performance a guest in the audience began the evening by asking this young talented Muslim, “Do you know how to make a bomb?” He was so shocked by the experience that he vowed to find a way to use his musical talent to transcend barriers between people and religions and cultures. He decided to begin by sharing his own musical gifts with people from different faiths, cultures, ethnicities and nationalities and to talk with them about the common values that unite us all.
This simple beginning ultimately gave birth to the miracle I witnessed four years later at Royce Hall – it was Zade’s dream of a “Roads to You: Celebration of One World” tour that featured some 30 young musicians ranging in age from 18-28 from 15 different countries. Each musician was personally auditioned by Zade for this tour and not only had to demonstrate world-class musical ability but leadership potential and a willingness to engage in cross-cultural exchange, dialogue and workshops in every city they visited. So far this vision has resulted in performances for Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, First Lady Laura Bush at the White House as well as concerts in communities throughout America.
His tour is sponsored by a cross-cultural coalition of Jordan’s Queen Noor, Seeds of Peace (the Jewish organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian youth together at a summer camp in the US each year), the Muslim Barakat Foundation, and the Berklee College of Music. The sponsorships alone are a testament to the power of his vision to bring together diverse visionaries who are seeking a path of unity in the midst of a world in pieces.
It was such a profound privilege to listen to the beauty of this music and feel the love and faith and hope in a future that we can all share in peace. At one point in the concert Zade shared his story of personal trauma when he was attending a cousin’s wedding in Amman last November in one of the three hotel targeted for a terrorist attack against Jordan. While Zade escaped injury himself, his friend Mustapha Akkad and Akkad’s daughter were killed in the explosion. The pain and sorrow of experiencing a terrorist attack on his home soil and the death of close friends only renewed his dedication to continue a vision of using music to unite people of all faiths and countries.
This week’s Torah portion describes the famous cloud that hung over the Tabernacle in the wilderness. It was a cloud by day and a fire by night, and as long as it hovered over the people they stayed encamped in one place. The minute it moved, they moved with it. Whether it was one day, a month or a year, it was on the signal of the cloud by day as it lifted and moved on that the people simply followed.
The cloud was as divine sign of the fact that even in the midst of the wilderness where no end was in sight to their wanderings and every day they experienced the insecurity of an uncertain future God was always present. All they had to do was look up and the cloud or the fire would be there. Most of us no longer see the cloud by day or the fire by night and must look elsewhere for signs that God is still with us even in the midst of our own insecurities and wanderings.
That’s why the Roads to You concert was such a miracle. It was a vision so touching, so moving that in the midst of a particularly beautiful musical moment Didi turned to me and whispered, “Someone should nominate Zade for the Nobel Peace prize.” He is that remarkable. It was that inspirational. The music and smiles and talent and shared energy of this unusually gifted diverse cultural group of musicians lit up the night with a flaming inner light that could only have been God’s fire by night” appearing once again. Indeed miracles come not to demonstrate what is impossible, but to show us what is possible right now.