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In a Tel Aviv hotel, a band tries to bridge divides

(SOUNDBITE OF TUNING INSTRUMENTS)

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Israel, concerts and events are on hold now during the war. One band, whose members span ethnicities and religions, is trying to strengthen cross-cultural connections using their music. They recently performed at a Tel Aviv hotel, and NPR's Daniel Estrin was there.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRQAT ALNOOR PERFORMANCE)

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: The audience - hotel staff, a couple of NPR journalists and mostly displaced Israelis who have been calling this hotel home. As many as a quarter of a million Israelis have been internally displaced since October 7. Some of them have had their homes destroyed. Others were evacuated from communities near the Gaza Strip and along the border with Lebanon. Firqat Alnoor, which means Band of Light in English, is here to play for them.

ELAD KIMCHI: When it all start, it was like a big shock for all of us.

ESTRIN: Elad Kimchi plays guitar and sings in Firqat Alnoor. He says right after the Hamas attacks in southern Israel, he couldn't even touch his instrument. But then he and members of his orchestra started volunteering.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRQAT ALNOOR PERFORMANCE)

KIMCHI: We started to play to people, refugees from the south and from the north, trying to make them little bit smiling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRQAT ALNOOR PERFORMANCE)

KIMCHI: They're in a hotel, but they're not for holiday. They are to be safe. That's the difference Also, us musicians and from other people, we are not in the regular life at all. The life stop. Everybody waiting for something to be solved.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRQAT ALNOOR PERFORMANCE)

KIMCHI: We are orchestra which play Oriental and classical Arabic music, classical Jewish ancient music.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRQAT ALNOOR PERFORMANCE)

KIMCHI: And also, we play Mizrahi music, which is songs that was written here in Israel in the '70s, in the '60s, in the '80s by Jewish people from background of Middle East culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF FIRQAT ALNOOR PERFORMANCE)

KIMCHI: In our orchestra, we have many members. Some of them are Muslims and Christian people that are religious, Orthodox and also secular. And everyone is together. We are like a family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIRQAT ALNOOR: (Singing in non-English language).

KIMCHI: We play on some of the Middle Eastern traditional instruments - qanun, the big, round - like harp but on the legs. It's a traditional Arabic and Turkish instrument. Next was the bass guitar, and I played on the darbuka drum, which is the famous Middle Eastern hand drum. Also, I sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIRQAT ALNOOR: (Singing in non-English language).

KIMCHI: These songs we play all the year. It's part of our identity. It's part of our culture. Arabic language was the language that our grandfather or grandmother used to speak in Egypt and in Syria and in the Yemen and Morocco and Libya and all the countries that expelled them. This is what people like here. They feel like home. The grandma used to listen at home for famous Egyptian music and famous Lebanese music. It's in the blood. It's from very young age. So it's not the enemy language. It's also language of our grandmother and grandfather.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIRQAT ALNOOR: (Singing in non-English language).

ESTRIN: Elad Kimchi and members of the band Firqat Alnoor playing for Israelis evacuated to this hotel from the northern border. They don't yet know when they'll get to return home. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIRQAT ALNOOR: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.