Arts and Culture | World

Israeli-Iranian DJ group spins for peace in Berlin

Roy Siny, left, and Reza Khani are the founders of the Iranian-Israeli party collective No Beef. (Boaz Arad)
Roy Siny, left, and Reza Khani are the founders of the Iranian-Israeli party collective No Beef. (Boaz Arad)

BERLIN (JTA) — It’s 4 a.m. at the famous Kater Holzig club and hundreds of beautiful young people are going crazy on the dance floor to the sound of heavy electronic beats.

To the casual clubber, it’s just another ordinary night out in Europe’s hottest city. But this gathering is far from ordinary. Many of those dancing are immigrants from two countries whose ongoing tensions could explode in the world’s face at any given moment.

Welcome to the first Iranian-Israeli techno party organized by the Iranian-Israeli collective No Beef.

It’s the kind of thing that could only happen in Berlin: Iranians and Israelis clubbing together inside a World War II-era German soap factory that now houses some of the city’s best parties, high, happy and sweaty, grinding it like there’s no tomorrow to tunes spun by DJs from Tehran and Tel Aviv.

A couple of them sit around a small campfire outside the main dance hall, on the banks of the Spree River, passing around sweet-smelling peace blunts and munching on hummus and Persian chicken stew prepared by a Persian-Jewish Israeli restaurateur.

The air is filled with small talk in Hebrew, Farsi and everyone’s common language, German. Nobody talks about politics or nuclear bombs. It’s just a bunch of young people sitting together, enjoying the moment and connecting to each other through the music.

It’s what connected the party’s two organizers, Reza Khani and Roy Siny.

Khani, 36, is a well-known figure in Berlin nightlife as the proprietor of a successful bar in the hip Kreuzberg neighborhood. Siny, 35, is a doctoral student at Potsdam University by day and a popular techno DJ by night.

The two first met at Khani’s bar. Siny was having a few drinks with his girlfriend and ended up playing a spontaneous set. Few words were exchanged, but the pair connected again on Facebook, at the bottom of a long comment thread about the situation in the Middle East.

Siny was engaged in a heated discussion with radical German anti-Israel activists. Khani, who was tired of seeing the argument popping up on his feed, messaged him privately and told him to take it easy.

“I told him he’s wasting his energy on people who have no real understanding of our reality,” Khani said. “That these guys are only interested in arguing, not in finding solutions. We started talking, and it was very clear we have much more in common than just our love for music.”

It was clear as well that Siny was different from other Israelis Khani had met — most of whom, he says, are suspicious and assume he must be an anti-Semite.

“Roy was on a completely different frequency,” Khani said. “We talked and talked and eventually decided we must do something together — something good that can bring other people like us together.”

Thus was born No Beef. Israeli Guy “Katzele” Kenneth and Iranians Namito Khalaj and Afagh Irandoost were the first to join. DJ Asaf Samuel (Michatronix) was hauled over from Tel Aviv to play the first party on Aug. 17. A massive queue of hundreds of people stretched 300 feet down the block.

“We decided we don’t want any kind of brochures or political talk in our party, just good music and good vibes,” Siny said. “I have been to many politically themed parties here in Berlin, and I really didn’t like them. You always see the same faces.

“The German left-wing scene is very closed and narrow-minded. It seems like people there get together not to have fun but because it’s part of some routine. Nothing good can come out of that. We wanted people coming to our party to feel at home and connect with each other, and I think we succeeded in that.”

After recovering from their first party, Siny and Khani sat down to plan a mutual trip to Israel — and another party. If someone had stumbled into the meeting, if would have been hard to tell who was the Israeli and who was the Iranian — except for the fact that Siny was wearing a Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC T-shirt. Germans can’t really tell them apart.

“We are similar in so many ways,” Khani said. “It’s not only how we talk or how we see things that are so alike. Iranians and Israelis have gone through a lot of tough experiences in their lives and it makes them, in a way, a bit melancholic. It’s something we don’t have in common with, let’s say, Canadians.”

Siny said Khani told him of his most vivid childhood memory — hiding from Iraqi bombers strafing Iran during the eight-year war between the countries. Siny had the same memory of running to the bomb shelter as Iraqi rockets fell on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

“Young Germans, for example, will never be able to understand that,” Siny said. “They lead very comfortable lives. They don’t know what war is. Many of them come to Berlin, they party, they sometimes study, they don’t really need to work, and they don’t even realize how privileged they are and always complain about the stupidest things. They’ve never had to struggle to survive like us.”

Both men say their parties are intended not only to bring together two peoples who have much in common, but also to show the rest of the world that Iranians and Israelis are not enemies — that there is, well, no beef.

“The truth is that historically speaking, Persians and Jews were never enemies,” Khani said. “What’s happening now is a result of Israeli policy in the occupied territories and of the Islamic radicalization in Iran. It’s all politics. It has nothing to do with the real will of the people.”

Will they ever be able to throw the same kind of party in Tel Aviv or Tehran?

Not in the near future, as far as the two friends can tell. Both agree that Berlin, where thousands of Iranian and Israeli immigrants live side by side, is the perfect location for them.

“My utopian vision, which might sound a little bit like a John Lennon song or a 12-year-old girl’s dream, is a world where race and religion play no importance and everybody lives together in harmony and peace,” Khani said. “Until that happens, Berlin is the closest thing there is.”