Iranian singer bridges gap between Israel and the Middle East

Today Mason Hillel and the Israel Student Association sponsor a performance by the Iranian-born singer Rita Yahan-Fourouz.

“Music Without Borders: Rita Yahan-Farouz” will feature the singer as she discusses her life and music, and gives a performance. The 70-minute TED talk style event will help educate students of all backgrounds about the importance of understanding and cooperation among different cultures.

Rita was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a young girl. Although she is Jewish and was raised in Israel, she sings most of her songs in Farsi – the language of Iran. Despite this, her music is not widely available in Iran where listening to music of any kind is not socially acceptable, and Rita is not allowed back into her home country. She still finds way to broadcast her music back home, mainly through the radio.

Her musical style combines lively pop with elements of her Middle Eastern culture. Her album “My Joys” brings together a sensation of traditional Persian and Israeli music blended with more Western styles like electronic music. Through her songs, Rita helps to spread a message of peace and unity between Israel and the Arab world. Mason Hillel and the Israel Student Association also wish to convey this idea.

Mason Hillel director Ross Diamond says that Hillel’s role on campus is “to inspire Jewish students to be engaged in learning about Israel.” Hillel is not exclusive however, and non-Jewish students are more than welcome to attend their programs.

Diamond describes Rita as “the Madonna of Israel” and reports that “she has performed in every major music venue in Israel and many in the United States.”

Her great popularity in the Middle East has the potential to contribute to peaceful relations between Israel and Arab countries.

“Rita has built a bridge that Iran and Israel can’t build,” Diamond said.

Hillel is co-sponsoring the event with George Mason’s Israel Student Association. Senior government and international politics major Danielle Agress, ISA’s outreach chair, explained that ISA students have been very involved in planning the logistics of the event and implementing outreach so that Rita’s message can be heard by as many people as possible.

“ISA is a culturally based organization that aims to educate Mason’s campus on Israel. Due to her diverse background, Rita promotes a message of peace and coexistence through her music, and encourages dialogue between Middle Eastern cultures and states,” Agress said. “Dialogue is an essential element in taking steps towards Middle Eastern peace.”

ISA and Hillel hope students will walk away from the event with an appreciation for Middle Eastern culture and the possibility of peace between Israel and Muslim countries.

“We hope students will learn about Rita’s message of peace, cooperation, and coexistence in the Middle East,” Agress said. “In addition, we hope that they will learn about Israeli and Persian music.”