Jewish-American Michael Hunter Ochs and Muslim-Palestinian Alaa Al Shaham — will lead a weekend of music and conversation as artists-in-residence at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, Friday-Saturday, Jan. 27-28.
The two met for the first time in 2009 in Ramallah on Hunter Ochs’s first trip to the Middle East. They developed a friendship based on conversations about their identities and their shared passion for music. They together established The Pursuit of Harmony, a project promoting relationship-building between Jewish-Americans and Palestinian-Muslims through concerts and residencies at synagogues, mosques, and other venues.
Hunter Ochs is a prolific and versatile composer in the popular and Jewish music arenas. His song “On My Knees” was named Song of the Year by both the Gospel Music Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International, and his song “In Her Eyes” was recorded by international star Josh Groban. He also composes liturgical pieces, often commissioned by synagogues, and has served since 2001 as composer-in-residence at Congregation Micah in Nashville.
Al Shaham, who is also a peace activist and commentator, reflects the concerns of the Palestinian people in his compositions. In 2011 he established the Big Dream Initiative Palestinian Children’s Choir for children living in the West Bank, for which he received the Children of the Earth Prize in 2014, recognizing work with youth in a conflict zone; his video “Obama Jay” took a satiric look at the Palestinian welcome for President Barack Obama when he visited the region in 2013.
The weekend’s events include kabalat Shabbat services on Friday, Jan. 27, at 6:30 p.m. featuring some of the artists’ original music, followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m.; and a Havdalah Café concert on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 5:30 p.m.
The artist-in-residence coincides with a Union for Reform Judaism Shabbaton at the synagogue on Jan. 28 that will include breakfast, Shabbat morning services, lunch study sessions, Havdala, and the concert with Hunter Ochs and Al Shaham.
The event is made possible by Marge and Paul Grayson in memory of Elinor Neifeld; Lisa and Matthew Russman in memory of Barbara and Sanford Cohen; and the URJ New Jersey & Friends Shabbaton.