Turning Up the Volume on Rishon Leziyyon’s Youth

Spur-of-the-moment jam sessions are commonplace in Volume's studio.
Spur-of-the-moment jam sessions are commonplace in Volume's studio.

On Monday afternoon, the youth music center of Rishon Leziyyon opens its doors for the week, and the kids gather to start up the music again. Volume, as it’s called, is built in the lower neighborhoods of Ramat Eliyahu, and you can usually hear the thump of the bass and the rat-a-tat-tat of the drumkits before you even make it to the front door. Sometimes, the music’s melodic, and sometimes, it’s a racket. The noise, however, is deceptive. Volume is quieter than it’s been in the past.

I moved to Ramat Eliyahu four months ago, and since then, I’ve been a volunteer for Volume. It’s a cozy two-room instrumental habitat where youth can play, record music, and hang out with their friends after school. We have monthly concerts, open music lessons, and crash courses on everything from mixing to theory, but Volume is much more than just a musician’s locale. It is a place where we can be free. It is where we can show the world what we’re made of… who we are, and who we want to be. It does not judge. It does not discriminate. Instead, Volume amplifies our creative potential, and at the same time, allows us the space to acknowledge our struggles through music and community.

Sheni — Director of the Children’s and Youth Unit of the Ramat Eliyahu Community Center — is the administrative mastermind behind Volume. Her goal is to turn it into a social learning center. “Volume is important because the teenagers need it,” she states. “They come with problems at home, school, or personal problems, and with Volume, they can learn to see them in a different light. I think it’s where they bloom.”

The program’s manager, Sasha, is another of Volume’s biggest enthusiasts. “Volume is a part of the human fabric of Ramat Eliyahu,” he tells me. “We are a beacon of hope for the youth, to show them that we are here for them, that we are together with them, and that we support them and their art. But many of them don’t know we exist, and we need more heroes to help us spread the music.”

When Sasha says ‘heroes’, he’s referring to the young musicians who frequent the center. It started off as an inside joke between us, but the term stuck, and now, we’ve unofficially dubbed Volume the ‘factory for heroes,’ because it’s forging heroes of many sorts.

Makata, for example, is a young dancehall singer from Ramat Eliyahu. He is well-known in the community for his popular youtube video, “Give to Gyal,” which he created with the help of Volume Rishon and the volunteer staff. “I want to be a singer,” he said when I asked why he comes. “For me, Volume is my occupation. It is a place where me and my friends can go that isn’t the streets.”

Noya is another of Volume’s virtuosos, but unlike Makata, her passion is punk-rock and grunge. “I like music,” she told me, “and I like Volume because it introduces us to new things and people. I have a real responsibility now.”

For the kids, Volume is their sanctuary. For the volunteers, it’s equally special. Noam is a volunteer like me, an out-of-towner, but she still makes the trek to Volume bi-weekly to teach in the studio. “Music is how I can reach the teenagers,” she says. “The music is how I talk to them, and how we can know each other. [Volume] is a happy and fun atmosphere where the kids can express themselves. It is a good environment.”

I’ve already seen the positive impact that Volume has on the youth, but even though it’s a factory for heroes, Sasha is right: the music barely reaches Ramat Eliyahu, let alone the rest of Rishon Leziyyon. We are trying to turn it up a few notches, and we’re looking for more heroes to help us. “There is hope here,” Sasha explains. “We just need the right kind of publicity. Volume is unfinished, but it is not stagnant. We are growing again. We are getting louder every day.”

This is also true. Every week brings bigger projects and more collaborations. In January, we started Volume on the Road, a travelling group of musicians who play live music every Monday at 3:30pm, and they’re already scheduled to headline at Bakehila’s Peshtishnekel and Purim. Volume is also hosting a Youth Talent Show in February, and we have new talent showing up at the studio doors on a regular basis. We intend to keep the doors open and the kids committed to coming, and honestly, I couldn’t think of a better use of my time. “None of this would be possible without the youth and the volunteers,” says Sasha. “You guys get something out of it too. I think our heroes have impacted us as much as we’ve impacted them.”

Although Volume isn’t jamming as loudly as it had in the past, this has not dissuaded us. If anything, it’s inspired us, and come Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, we make sure our doors are open, and the instruments are tuned. Sometimes the studio’s packed. Sometimes it’s not. Either way, the music is growing, and with our community, our financial supporters, and — of course — our heroes on our side, we’re going to make Volume the social sanctuary Rishon Leziyonn’s youth deserve.

About the Author
Ethan H. Smith is a graduate student, a writer, and an alumni of the Yahel Israel social change fellowship. He studies Peace and Conflict in Germany and works as an activist for communities across the globe.
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