Israelis drums stolen, but show in Berkeley goes on

An attempt to spread a message of peace to university campuses was temporarily thwarted when someone stole $8,000 worth of drums out of the back of a van in Berkeley.

Eighteen African djembe drums belonging to the King David's Peace Drummers of Israel disappeared from the back of the white rented van, parked at a Berkeley Holiday Inn Express, sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning. Fifteen CDs, a shofar and a backpack were also stolen.

Although the group did not play in San Francisco on Tuesday as scheduled, the following day the drummers performed before a rowdy crowd at U.C. Berkeley, using instruments obtained from as far away as Los Angeles.

The van's windows were not broken and the vehicle did not appear to be tampered with, but Berkeley Police officer J. Mercado said the case would still be treated as theft from a vehicle.

Despite 16 security cameras mounted around the Holiday Inn parking lot, it was unclear whether the alleged thieves were caught on video. Tiffany Brown, campus outreach coordinator for the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay — who coordinated the drummers' visit along with the University Student Division/Hagshama of the World Zionist Organization and the Israel Consulate General — said a hotel clerk told her the cameras are basically useless at night.

All four Israeli musicians, representing the internationally renowned performance group on this tour, were shocked by the crime. They travel all over the world — performing jointly with Jewish and Arab groups in war zones, humanitarian concerts, religious festivals and economic conferences — and always leave their drums in their vehicle.

"Without our drums we are compared to nothing!" said a good-humored Haim Aboud, while the others spoke to police.

Aboud, Kfir Shichrur, Eyal Davidov and Menashe Malkane said they first noticed the drums were missing when they approached the vehicle around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. They had spent Yom Kippur in Berkeley and had their first Bay Area performance scheduled for noon the next day at San Francisco State University.

Although that performance had to be canceled, the musicians, who each carry $400 in personal insurance, immediately went in search of new drums. In a matter of 24 hours, they bought or borrowed a total of 15 drums, driving to Santa Cruz and as far south as Los Angeles so they would not have to cancel their Wednesday performance at U.C. Berkeley.

"We can't stop now," Aboud explained. "We haven't started yet."

Davidov agreed. "This is just one challenge we have to work out. If we have to, we'll put stones out and start hitting the ground. You can't stop the spirit."

The King David's Drummers organized in 1997 to create understanding, peace and cooperation between all people. While the drums, said Davidov, have deep roots in Jewish history, they "can be understood by all people of the world, of all religions, ages and education. We find all people can sing together, can shout together, can dance together."

He described drum performance as "a new diplomatic tool" that can be used by everyone from foreign ministers to mental patients.

Brown, who saw the drummers perform at U.C. Irvine, hoped that bringing the drummers to area campuses might help ease some of the ongoing tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students, helping to "kick off the fall semester in a positive way, by bringing people together."

The musicians have seen this happen. In Orange County, for instance, Malkane said the drummers walked into a campus demonstration between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students with shouting and mass pandemonium.

"It ended with people hugging each other and exchanging phone numbers," he said.

"We want to bring back the confidence of Jews," he added. "I hear a lot of stories about those who are afraid of being Jewish on campus. We want to make their spirits stronger."

As for the thief or thieves, Aboud bears no ill will. "There's too much good energy in the drums. It's like stealing the Holy Book. Even if they just hit it, they'll feel the spirit."

Students were able to do so on Wednesday, when the drummers performed at U.C. Berkeley. Sitting in a circle, the drummers had spares available for passersby to sit down and have a hand at them. Meanwhile, students and hippies gyrated and belly-danced in the center of the circle.

Bryan Chan, a junior who happened upon the drummers, said he wasn't sure what the event was for. "Something about peace," he said.

"But if a bunch of people who don't know each other are sitting around and playing the drums together, obviously it works."