Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Musical message of peace presented at Temple Shir Shalom


Temple Shir Shalom choir members shown are, Laurie Levine, Patricia Samuels, Sandy Ribakoff, Shelley Sundheim, Jon Miller, Susan Nager, Jon Sundheim, David Cooper, Daun Cooper with spiritual leader Beth Schafer and guests Michael Ochs and Alaa Ali.

Two world-renowned performers, Michael Ochs and Alaa Ali, integrated their Pursuit of Harmony experience into a beautiful Friday night Shabbat service filled with their music and their story. Almost 200 people attended the service, held by Temple Shir Shalom at the First United Methodist Church of Oviedo. Those in attendance welcomed Shabbat with a new twist on a traditional melody. Ali and Ochs, joined by Beth Schafer and the TSS choir, led a stirring rendition of "Hinei Ma Tov" in the round with the Arabic translation. Ali's vocals, both in Hebrew and Arabic, lent a brilliant tone to each of the night's pieces.

Throughout the service, the pair injected short snippets of their unusual friendship and set the tone for the post-service portion of their concert. But before the service was over, Ochs and Ali lent their voices to more songs, including "Too Many Stones," and the highlight of the evening, Ochs' version of "Oseh Shalom."

Temple Shir Shalom regularly sings Ochs' version and it is a congregational favorite. The congregation belted out his melody with such feeling (and volume) that he was overwhelmed. Ali closed the service with a rendition of Uzi Hitman's "Adon Olam," which he delivered with his blend of Arabic tones and Hebrew lyrics.

After a feast of an Oneg Shabbat, Ochs and Ali reconvened for the rest of their appearance. They recounted the story of their friendship formed over the bond of music. Ali, a native of Gaza, and current resident of Ramallah, is a widely recognized artist who leads a 400-voice youth choir that sings songs of peace. He is being honored in Oslo this June with the Children of the Earth Prize for his work with at-risk youth.

Throughout the evening, both he and Ochs pointed out the similarities between the Israelis and Palestinians. To make their point, they highlighted a number of words in Hebrew and Arabic that were readily recognizable to speakers of either language. To illustrate their point, they sang a variation on the Shema alternating between the Hebrew and the Arabic.

Pictures and videos of their shared times in the West Bank (Ochs has visited 15 times so far) projected overhead while they spoke to the audience in an intimate discussion of what it meant to be friends on opposite sides of the current situation between Palestinians and Israelis. Ali quickly established himself as a speaker, putting the audience at ease both with his humor and his message of peace. Another song, "Tu 'L-Leil" or "All Night Long," with accompanying pictures gave the audience a small glimpse into life in the West Bank.

The combination of a beautiful Shabbat service, a musical message of peace, and the friendship between two musicians, made for a spectacular night. Temple Shir Shalom will continue to offer music-based, thoughtful, religious programs in the future and invites the community to join in these programs.


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