Conference Proceeding: City Blocks Make Good Neighbors: Muslim-Jewish Musical Interaction in Brooklyn

This paper explores the role of music in shaping individual and collective memories. In particular, it examines ways in which members of Brooklyn's Sephardi Jewish community โ€” a transnational group comprised of Jews from North Africa, the Levant and Iraq โ€” use music in sacred and secular contexts to construct and express a paradoxical identity. Due to massive emigration from Muslim lands, politics associated with events and tensions in recent decades as well as developing religious ideologies, Jews and Muslims have grown increasingly estranged, creating feelings of resentment and distrust. Yet, as co-ethnics in many ways, they remain deeply connected through aspects of a shared cultural and historical consciousness โ€” music, food, language, geographic origin and cultural mores. Out of the intersection of social estrangement and affinities for shared cultural and historical consciousness, a paradoxical identity has emerged. Brooklyn, New York, is home to many immigrant communities from Arab countries. The earliest communities were established in the first two decades of the twentieth century, with new waves of immigrants in the past three to four decades expanding and diversifying these Muslim-Jewish population centers. The ethnographic fieldwork presented in this paper is drawn from participant observations and interviews with Muslim and Jewish musicians, community leaders and lay informants. Musical selections will be presented as a means for illustrating ways in which memory serves to construct identity in the present.

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