Matisyahu to headline ‘Declare Your Freedom’ Festival

Alec Schwartzman, Print Arcade Editor

While modern college campuses are often lauded as a breeding ground for open discussion of opinions, values and beliefs, students with controversial views often remain too afraid to speak their minds because they perceive close-mindedness in their peers or superiors. Tulane University Students Supporting Israel aims spark a change regarding this issue starting 2 p.m. Sunday.

The independent, grassroots group is hosting its third annual music festival named “Declare Your Freedom” on the Lavin-Bernick Center quad featuring performances from Israeli blues collective The Ori Naftaly Band, Rebirth Brass Band and Matisyahu.

“This is a initiative that [pro-Israel political activist and Zionist] Chloé Valdary and I started,” co-founder and senior Maor Shapira said. “The idea is a community building event. It’s a time for students to come out and be with other students and be exposed to something they aren’t normally. We feel like the best way to do that is with fun, music and free food.”

While the main objective is for participants to have a great time with fellow students and the New Orleans community, TUSSI hopes to leave guests with a sense of safety and freedom.

“The values of the event that we are pushing forward are democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, all of those things,” Shapira said. “[Our goal is to] legitimize the de-legitimized.”

Shapira has a personal stake in the issues at hand. A truly unique student, the Israeli native came to the United States to further his education after a tour of duty with the Israeli Defense Force.

“I started here with no intention to do advocacy work. I was here to have fun and get an education,” Shapira said. “What I saw here, even at Tulane, was a fear of speaking out for a cause you believe in, which means you are preventing your own freedom of expression. I try to empower supporters to speak their opinions on a daily basis, to say what’s on your mind, even if I hate it. That’s how I see the world.”

Through the hard work of Shapira and other dedicated students, the advocacy group has seen fast growth during the last three years. This year’s festival will see the reaped rewards of that expansion.

“We were actually trying to reach out to Matisyahu for three years,” Shapira said. “We were obviously nowhere near his radar. But over the years, because our advocacy was so impactful, when we reached out to him this year, he was already aware of some of the things we had done, so he was fully on board afterwards.”

The event will feature traditional Israeli games, cuisine and live art galleries in addition to the highly anticipated musical performances. This event is free and open to the public.