This is the story of how longtime Venice resident and musician/author/peace andenvironmental activist, Stephen Longfellow Fiske, who along with his wife Nikki, traveled from their roots in New York City, through Haight Ashbury, and Venice, to develop a music, film, and multi-media peace building project focused on building peace in Jerusalem and beyond.
In 1964, a young man in his freshman year at the City College of New York, decided to audition for a part in a play that was put on by the school’s Musical Comedy Society. At the audition he noticed a beautiful young girl who was standing on a table directing the large mob of auditoners to follow certain instructions. A talented singer and actor in multiple school plays from elementary school through high school, Stephen went through the auditions and got a part in the cast. The girl who caught Stephen’s eye, Nikki, was also in the cast. At just 18, Stephen was dating other girls, but as he and Nikki got to know each other more, they found a dynamic connection and a magnetic chemistry between them. It wasn’t long before Stephen asked her out.
“She was a smart and beautiful Jewish girl from the Bronx, and I was an athletic string bean WASPY guy from Washington Heights, who played guitar and wrote songs, and wound up eventually going to NYU on a basketball scholarship,” Stephen recalls. “She caught my eye, and I will never forget that first time I saw her.”
After that first date, which involved them going to a school play before sneaking a kiss good night after Stephen dropped her home, the pair never left each other’s side.
After college, they traveled together to San Francisco in 1968 and immersed themselves in the hippy revolution. Stephen became the lead singer/songwriter for an acid rock band, “The Bycycle,’ and pranced around the stage fronting the wall of blaring amplifiers singing and screaming his heart out. The band became booked by a prominent agency and wound up opening at major rock venues for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat, Taj Mahal, and others. Nikki worked at waitressing jobs as their lives merged into the psychedelic rock band culture of musicians, roadies, sound equipment, touring, recording, and living the Flower Child life of the Haight Ashbury era. Through the volatile mix of drugs, crazy personalities, an ongoing stream of extreme incidents involving both magic and tragedy, the band broke up in 1970, and Stephen returned to his folk singing roots, performing in coffee house, clubs, bars and restaurants throughout the Bay Area.
Stephen’s return to performing acoustic music marked a rekindling of the spirit he felt in attending the Great March on Washington in 1963 where Martin Luther King Jr. gave the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. There, Stephen was indelibly imprinted with the cause of non-violent social activism, and the music which so powerfully interwove its spirit into the fabric of the movement. Later, in opposition to the Vietnam War and the Draft, Stephen pursued the path of becoming a conscientious objector. Working with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization advising young men who faced the Draft, he entered into a deep study of Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha (truth or soul force). This catalyzed his interest in Vedantic teachings which were at the root of Gandhi’s non-violence, specifically Ahimsa, which is love and respect for all living things and doing no harm to any living form, including the Earth. Stephen had begun his spiritual journey as he made a life commitment to non-violence and the quest for both inner and outer peace, and for justice in our communities and world.
“In my search for spiritual meaning, I found a guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda, and became a disciple and an avid practitioner of yoga, eventually teaching yoga for the Integral Yoga Institute,” Stephen says. “I traveled with Swamiji and performed at his lectures, and Nikki and I made yoga the foundation of our lives — a complete polar opposite of the wild life we had been living when I was in the band.”
In 1974, Stephen, Nikki and their infant son, Evan, moved to Venice Beach after Stephen was offered various opportunities in the music business. There, they saw their family expand – with the home births of two beautiful daughters, Elana and Amy. Stephen pursued his music and Nikki became a school teacher in Santa Monica. Their children were brought up in a non-religious, vegetarian, yoga practicing Venice home, with progressive, holistic ideals and eclectic spirituality… and lots of love. As Stephen wrote, performed, recorded, toured, and deepened his yoga practice, he and Nikki devoted themselves to family, and living life in the unique and colorful artistic community by the sea.
The family’s ties with Jerusalem evolved after Evan graduated college and trekked around the globe and ended up embracing Judaism (he was already Jewish by Jewish law as the son of a Jewish mother). After accepting a scholarship to study at Yeshiva, he moved to Jerusalem and his own love story began – he met his wife, Sharon, and they are now raising two boys, Lior and Yuval. Both Evan and Sharon are musicians and music teachers. Evan is currently pursuing graduate studies in ethnomusicology at Hebrew University and is also a writer/journalist who has worked for the Jerusalem Post. Evan and Sharon’s wedding brought Stephen and his family to Jerusalem for the first time.
“As a musician/ poet I feel intuitively connected to the atmosphere and vibrational field of an environment in which I find myself, which catalyzes music and poetry within me, and that’s exactly what happened when Nikki and I first traveled to Israel to attend our son’s wedding — I was inspired to write a guitar composition, which I entitled Jerusalem Prayer,” Stephen explains.
From there, the Jerusalem Prayer Project was born.
“As I developed the lengthy musical piece and eventually recorded it, I saw the music as the soundtrack for a film by the same name. I have since added the acapella song, Peace of Prayer, to the soundtrack. I wrote a treatment for the film and brought it to filmmaker, Robert Corsini, with whom I had previously collaborated on other projects. Together, we developed the Jerusalem Prayer Project,” Stephen explains.
Fast forward nearly two years later, the Jerusalem Prayer Project (JPP) has become a non-profit venture, which utilizes its website (jerusalemprayerproject.org) as an anchor for “empowering peacebuilding in Jerusalem and the world through prayer and the arts.” The project consists of a short film in development titled Jerusalem Prayer, and a feature length documentary highlighting current peace builders in the Holy land, as well as the Peace Portal, an ongoing platform on the JPP website for artists and activists to share their vision for peace, far into the future.
“JPP’s mission is to articulate a new dynamic narrative for peaceful co-existence, by providing a multimedia platform for musicians, artists, filmmakers, and activists,” Stephen says. “JPP upholds interfaith values of building bridges of goodwill, dignity, and respect across our differences – embracing non-violence, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. It is designed to be an on-going, interactive hub – a hub that connects peace activists and artists in collective creative action: a powerful entity using technology and social media, where we are the gardeners adding our seeds to grow and cultivate the peace energy.”
Stephen’s determination to bring this peacebuilding platform to fruition is unwavering – he and Nikki have funded the initial stages of the project, and he and Robert and their creative team have spent countless hours of sweat equity in its development. Come November 12, the world will see the results of their hard work with the official announcement, celebration, and call for support as JPP launches at the Electric Lodge Theater in Venice Beach, California. The launch kick starts JPP’s social media push and the ongoing campaign to raise awareness and funds for the project and its imperative for peace building in the Holy Land and the world.
“For me, it’s the culmination of a long journey dedicated to peacemaking through the arts, and building a dynamic narrative, supportive of creating a sustainable culture of peace in our world,” Stephen says. “Jerusalem is symbolic of the longing in the heart of humanity to live harmoniously in the grace of creation. It’s at the heart of the global dilemma – the quest and challenge of how to live in peaceful co-existence.”
He adds: “How do you find your Jerusalem? How does the challenge of Jerusalem call to you for a response that helps move us all a little closer to that day when our prayers and expressions for peace, in the city of peace, that place of peace within us, is realized?”
As for Stephen and Nikki’s 52-year love story?
“As soon as we met, our life journey began as inseparable, adventurous renegades, and Nikki remains the smart, beautiful girl who transformed into an astonishing and accomplished woman,” Stephen says. “I remain a string-bean musician, performer, presenter, singer/songwriter/ recording artist, with musical roots in the folk music of Greenwich Village and the civil rights movement, an author, Interfaith Minister and producer. Accomplishments aside, Nikki and I, still to this day, remain deeply in love, on a continuous adventure, and she still catches my eye.”
To find out more about the Jerusalem Prayer Project (JPP) or to donate, please visit jerusalemprayerproject.org
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For general inquiries, please call: 310 396 8205
The Jerusalem Prayer Project, a music/film and multi-media venture which is launching November 12 at the Electric Lodge in Venice.