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News and Views on Jews and Music

Café Finjan finds common ground(s)

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Last night I watched the Grammy Awards and heard the usual platitudes about "the healing power of music" and "the ability of music to transcend our differences." But here in Chicago, a group is taking these ideas very seriously, and is using music to heal wounds and build bridges.

The project, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is called Café Finjan. A "finjan" is a Middle Eastern coffee pot placed directly on the flames of a fireplace or campfire. Some Jewish summer-campers, youth-groupers, and Israel-experiencers will recognize the word from an Israeli folksong. But the finjan is a fixture of Arabic culture as well.

This coffee pot is a fitting image, therefore, for Café Finjan, an evening of coffee-house style performances from both Jewish and Muslim acts.

This year, Café Finjan will happen on Thursday, March 15 at 7 pm at the Conaway Center of Columbia College, 1104 South Wabash. The evening will feature music, of course, but also poetry and paintings. The theme for 2012 is "New Roots Chicago." According to Café Finjan's website, the theme "explores . . . navigating the tensions between uprooting and re-rooting, as well as the desire to create and nurture a home in the Chicagoland area."

This year's featured artists are spoken-word poet Miriam Grossman, Pakistani musician Yasmin "Naz" Ali, and calligraphy artist Zeeshan Farooq, but there are several others over the course of the evening.

Other artists featured at Café Finjan include singer-songwriters, storytellers, comedians, actors, dancers, and filmmakers - both professionals and the rest of us. (The call for artists closed in early February.) Recent Jewish acts have included beatboxer Yuri Lane and dance-pop duo Stereo Sinai.

Café Finjan began in 2002 by the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. It is a project of its Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative, which was established to respond to vandalism (and worse) after 9/11. The event, the site says, "establishes points of contact and nurtures a greater understanding between Jews and Muslims of Chicago, while creating spaces for people of these diverse backgrounds to come together and give voice to their identity and experience as part of a larger community."

Visit Café Finjan on Facebook for more information.

The experience is unique. The people are friendly. And I imagine the coffee's pretty good, too.

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