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Good deed meets cross-border challenge

Organizers of a benefit concert for the Lebanon war's victims found themselves in the middle of controversy.

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One supported the war, one vehemently opposed it, and a third never made up her mind. But what the three Jewish-American seminary students living here agreed on was that something should be done to help the war's victims – on both sides of the border.

It sounded like a simple and noble enough idea: Hold a small concert to raise relief funds for the residents of northern Israel as well as Lebanese civilians who have suffered from the harrowing war that came to a tenuous halt earlier this month. Musicians would include up-and-coming Jewish and Arab artists.

But the concept, it seems, was not as widely and well-received as the three – Dan Sieradski, Stuart Siegel, and Amy Kaplan – had hoped. Mr. Sieradski, the chief organizer and the founder of a slew of cutting-edge Jewish websites, was flooded with hate mail on his main site. Of 200 posters he hung up around the city, he says, only three didn't get torn down, "and I think that's because we glued them up real good."

When he stood on corners handing out cards advertising the event, called Aharai HaMelchama/Baid Il Harb, or "After the War" in Hebrew and in Arabic, most of the reactions to the idea of aiding people in Lebanon were indifferent to negative.

"Some people would crumble them up and throw them back," says Sieradski. "It was, 'How can you help them? You're supporting terrorism against Israel.' " As a student of religion, he turned to religious bases for compassion. "It defiles the name of God if we turn a blind eye to the suffering of innocent people. We're all created in the image of God."

Convincing people here to support the effort was just the start of their challenges. They were keen to find an apolitical group, says Mr. Siegel, so the fundraisers could be sure not to benefit Hizbullah.

Next, they had to find an organization in Lebanon, be it local or international, willing to accept half of the funds raised from the event. Several major nongovernmental organizations, such as CARE and Oxfam, have been unresponsive or said they were "unequipped" for such a donation, they said. Mercy Corps appears to be considering the offer.

Despite that less-than-encouraging reception, they decided, the show must go on. Late Monday night, at a popular venue called Yellow Submarine, musicians took the stage and mainly steered away from politics.


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