A Concerted Effort

IPO’s Sulamot Program for Social Change


With its philosophy of “Music for Social Change,” Sulamot is having a positive impact across Israel. Created in 2010 by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in association with Tel Aviv University, the program annually gives thousands of at-risk children a musical route to become happier, healthier adults.

Taking its name from the Hebrew word for both a musical scale and a ladder, Sulamot currently provides more than 2,000 children with musical instruments and training. They perform in youth orchestras located in 14 communities from Carmel in the north to Mitzpe Ramon in the south, gaining individual strengths as they learn to work cooperatively towards common goals. In addition to 18 orchestra programs there is one for blind children and one, called “Little Hearts,” for 300 kindergartners and first-graders.

“We’re very flexible,” said Director Sarah Elbaz. “Every location has a special program and every program has different characteristics to address the unique needs of that area, whether it’s blind children, Ethiopian children or children in the war zone with the post-traumatic stress.”

Sulamot targets the 10,000 children at the absolute bottom of the social scale who are most in danger of being drawn into lives of crime, fixtures of social welfare, or sidelined by physical disease or mental illness. With her specially trained teachers and staff, Elbaz, a graduate of the USC School of Music, has seen Sulamot achieve extraordinary success.

“We were told that programs for children at risk usually have a success rate under 40 percent,” she said. “But more than 90 percent of children who enter Sulamot finish all three years. And the longer they play, the more their behavior improves and the more they achieve success in other fields. That’s why Sulamot is so important.”

To appreciate the turnarounds taking place in these young lives one must understand the lives into which they were born.

Abandoned as a blind one-week-old, Krizel would find her voice and hear her calling through Sulamot. She now shares that voice with concert audiences across Israel. Meet Kritzel, and others, and hear her sing in this overview of the Sulamot program.

Another, now 11, is an example of how a tendency towards negative leadership can be encouraged into a positive direction. Despite being unusually small, he had emerged as the most charismatic and controlling individual at a children’s center the Sulamot staff visited a few years go.

Elbaz recalled her amazement at the boy. “When he told the children not to play, nobody played,” she said. “When he told them to play, everybody played. We told him that if he wants to be a real leader, he should learn to conduct the orchestra. He was excited by the idea and started to take conducting lessons. From the second that he was a conductor, everybody had to go to the class and play, and play well, because he wanted his orchestra to be good. Eventually he conducted before Shimon Peres at a Presidential Conference.”

As with the developing singer and conductor, every one of the program’s 2,000 children carries a story of neglect, abuse, or both. Thanks to Sulamot, they are learning to release those stories through music, and learn stories of care and compassion to replace them.

March 2017