Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian musicians will join forces Friday at an unlikely meeting ground — Shabbat services at a synagogue — for a first-of-its-kind concert in New York.
The performers, known collectively as My Favorite Enemy, will come together at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, a Reform synagogue on Manhattan‘s Upper West Side.
“It’s really a way to show people that peace is possible, and to promote openness and understanding,” said Basel Khoury, a group member and Jordanian singer popular in the Arab world.
With a unique fusion of Middle Eastern and contemporary pop and rock, My Favorite Enemy has performed at a growing list of international venues, including at the European Parliament; the residences of the Israeli and Norwegian ambassadors in Jordan; and at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC.
With additional musicians from the United States and Norway, My Favorite Enemy is part of the Middle East Program, a US- and Norwegian-backed initiative that brings together artists and professionals from a variety of fields to promote peace.
Founded in 2009, My Favorite Enemy recorded its first album a year later. Members — who sing in English, Arabic and Hebrew — have found music to be an effective bridge. “After having met for half an hour,“ Hitman said of the group’s initial encounter, “we started playing music, and there were no borders.”
Band members are encouraged to build relationships before discussing politics, a policy that in many cases has led to unexpected friendships and new types of musical growth.
“It’s been a life-changing opportunity both on a professional and personal level,” said Khoury, who appeared on “Star Academy,” a popular Arabic-language cross between “American Idol“ and “Big Brother.”
“Now I have open houses for me in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Norway and the US. On a professional level, I’ve learned a lot, and every time I play with them, I feel like I’m gaining knowledge.”
“It’s something unique for a Jewish-American to write a song with a Palestinian,” added Michael Ochs, one of the group‘s founders. “This project has made me a better songwriter.”
The sentiment is echoed by Alaa Shaham, a songwriter, producer and vocalist and one of two Palestinian members. (In total, My Favorite Enemy includes four Israelis, two Jordanians, one American and three Norwegians.)
“I needed to do something meaningful, something that would really make a change,” said Shaham. “I wanted to talk to the other side and see how, together, we can make a difference and make a compromise.”
Friday’s Rodeph Sholom service will also include performances by the synagogue’s cantorial staff. The congregation’s senior cantor, Rebecca Garfein, embraced the collaboration, saying My Favourite Enemy’s mission matches that of the congregation.
‘After having met for half an hour, we started playing music, and there were no borders’
“We are very much at the forefront of the Reform movement in terms of social action,” Garfein told The Times of Israel. “This concert fits in beautifully with this idea, and this is one way to create dialogue and understanding.”
That has already been the effect for members of the band.
“Now when I hear my friends’ stories about the conflict, I hear it differently,” said Ochs. “When they hear my story, they hear it differently, too.”
“I know that Basel is telling his friends, ‘I have some Israeli friends, and they’re okay,’ ” added Hitman. “I believe that it’s a very slowly process, but in the end, we can achieve peace.”
Editor’s note: This piece was updated on February 18, 2013.