Elliot Oppenheim believes music can, at least for a few moments, overcome conflict and offer peace.
In July, the Florence man will put that belief into practice when he travels halfway across the world to participate in an international choir and orchestra cultural exchange in Palestine.
Oppenheim has been selected as the principal trumpet in the orchestra that will feature musicians from numerous countries including France, Spain and Morocco.
“It was an honor to be invited to play with the Ramallah Orchestra as part of a very large peace contingency,” Oppenheim said. “It’s a 100-person orchestra with musicians coming from all over the world. I think, but I’m not sure, that I’m the only American representative.”
He almost certainly will be the only Israeli.
Several years ago, Oppenheim became an Israeli citizen.
“With my Jewish heritage, it was my legal right,” he said. “It was important to me.”
Oppenheim will travel on his U.S. passport, which was fine as of October when he last visited the area. But he is also well aware of the conflict occurring currently in the Middle East. He knows the area he’ll be travelling through is disputed.
“It couldn’t be crazier right now with Donald Trump and the embassy’s move to Jerusalem,” he said. “There have been tremendous demonstrations. I’ve been to all these places before, but I’m real nervous this time.
"Usually I never take public transportation and never take buses. You just don’t know. If someone comes up to you that you don’t know, you have to get away from them. You have to be extremely cautious.”
But that situation hasn’t changed his resolve to want to be part of this effort for peace.
“I grew up very Jewish,” he said. “Over the past 20 years, I have searched out, embraced and returned to my Jewish heritage. As an American Jew, this is extremely important to me. I personally am very Zionist. I believe in Israel, but I really avoid politics.
“I don’t have an opinion on whether it was such a great idea to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem,” Oppenheim said. “I don’t know. I play a trumpet. My main concern is hitting my notes. Why I am doing this is to participate in this very important peace effort.
“As musicians, there’s very little we can do to address those disputes directly,” he said. “We can bring music and through that music, for at least a little bit of time, we can bring peace.”
The choir that will perform with the Ramallah Orchestra features 300 voices from all parts of Palestine. “That will be a huge thing in itself,” he said.
Oppenheim’s invitation to the event was a result of a couple of concerts he did a few years ago in the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra where he played some solos. Apparently, someone liked what they heard.
Last October, when he was in the West Bank, he met the director of the non-profit Al Kamandjati Association, which provides music education to Palestinian children, including those in refugee camps and marginalized zones.
He offered her his trumpet. Several weeks ago, she accepted his offer in an email that asked if he would be willing to be the principal trumpet for the Ramallah Orchestra’s main event this summer.
“I said sure,” Oppenheim said. “I didn’t hesitate. I said I’ll be there and that’s what happened. Just purely out of the blue. I was very honored.”
The association created the Ramallah Orchestra, which offers Palestinian students the opportunity to perform with talented European and Palestinian musicians. For eight years, the orchestra has been playing Beethoven symphonies.
This year it will perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
“Beethoven is not associated with Jewish or Arabic anything,” Oppenheim. “I just think it’s an artistic expression.
"What I would say is that it’s better to do peace than conflict. I think this will be a very well received series of concerts. It is going to be broadcast on Israeli TV and broadcast in its entirety all over the Middle East on radio and TV. I’m told it’s going to be broadcast in Hebrew, Arabic and English.”
There are only two trumpets in the orchestra.
“Beethoven used trumpets like spice,” he said. “There is all this string stuff going on. He used the trumpets and brass as spice. It’s extremely important that these parts are done well because the whole orchestra could fall apart if you mess it up.
“It’s very long and complex. And at the end is probably the most famous melody that Beethoven ever wrote,‘Ode to Joy,’” Oppenheim said.
When it comes his time to perform, Oppenheim’s hope is people will hear the music as a cry for peace.
“When I’m playing, I’ll be thinking please stop the killing,” he said. “No more bombs or rockets. This has come to a point that it has to stop. This performance will be a cry for peace. It’s what it will all be about.”