Michael HarPaz worked behind the scenes and before cameras as part of a team bringing together Christians and Jews — representing Israel, America and Africa — to sing out the peaceful values they share.
Michael HarPaz, raised in Huntington Woods and relocated to Israel while attaining pop music star limelight, has long expressed a public voice against antisemitism.
As a student at the University of Michigan, focused on Jewish studies, he wrote a 1993 editorial for the “Campus Life” section of the Detroit Jewish News, repeating his criticism of a Holocaust denier’s letter allowed publication in the school newspaper.
HarPaz’s latest initiative, going on for almost two years, has to do with the making of a musical video about unity among people of different heritage. He worked behind the scenes and before cameras as part of a team bringing together Christians and Jews — representing Israel, America and Africa — to sing out the peaceful values they share.
The video, “The Blessing Israel,” musicalizes and adds to a prayer in the Biblical Book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face to you and give you peace.”
Previously recorded by Christian groups, after introduction by singer/songwriter Kari Jobe working with Elevation Worship, this newest version adds the element of Hebrew. The original recording received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song in 2021.
“I hold this project very special in my heart because, in addition to the beautiful music, we’re doing some good,” HarPaz said. “We’ve topped a million views on our video in the first two weeks, and the use of American, African and Israeli music stars — Jews and Gentiles — bridged a gap to combat the lies of global antisemitism.”
Adding the Jewish Experience
HarPaz gives credit for the video idea and the initial efforts bringing it about to Daniel Berkove, a longtime friend from Michigan also relocated to Israel. After hearing an earlier version of the prayer set to music, Berkove wanted to create a video that could be more directly related to the Jewish experience.
An observant Jew, Berkove speaks the prayer every day during morning services and every Friday night during his family’s Shabbat meal.
“It’s a beautiful song, and I realized that it had gone viral by its nature,” Berkove said. “The original was written by Evangelical Christians, and after it came out, Christian communities around the world did versions of it. I work a lot in Africa, so I was intrigued that a former schoolmate posted a [rendition] from Zimbabwe, which was the first version I heard.”
Some resources for initiating the Israeli-joined project reached back to people Berkove knew from Southfield, while other contacts involved his relocation to Israel and world travels as a senior adviser for HIS Markit, an information analytics firm. StandWithUs, an Israeli advocacy organization, collaborated on the release.
An International Effort
As Berkove sought out HarPaz to work on the project, they met with participation enthusiasm from many famed singers, including Israelis Avraham Tal and Gali Atari, Americans Ricky Skaggs and Jacky Clark-Chisholm and Africans Rahel Getu and Mynah Rams.
“Michael introduced me to my video partner, Erez Dan, a producer and director who became responsible for the whole project and the day-to-day part,” Berkove said. “Michael arranged the musical direction, and my job was to raise the funds and oversee the project from a strategic standpoint.”
Funding came from a Christian group, Passages, which sends Christian college students to Israel in exploration of their religious roots and in efforts to connect them with those of other religious backgrounds. Passages participants provided backing vocals for the video as Christian students from Michigan colleges appear on the organization’s website to give testimonials of the value of their travel.
“This is a good song to bring Jews and Christians together,” said Scott Phillips, Passages executive director. “I’ve heard this song many times in church.”
Passages has been compared to Taglit Birthright Israel, which sponsors visits of Jewish young adults to Israel. Berkove, who explains the main goal of Passages as educational, also describes the group as a Zionist organization that supports Israel and is friendly toward Jews.
“‘The Blessing’ is a Christian song and so it was decided that this would be a Christian-Jewish collaboration,” Berkove said. “However, we are all looking forward to an opportunity to create a musical collaboration that will celebrate the Abraham Accords or Jewish-Muslim Relations.”
The lengthy time involved in completing the project had to do with the pandemic. Performers had to videotape themselves, and the results of their efforts had to be merged technically. Jacky Clark-Chisholm, a member of the gospel-singing Clark Sisters and a Grammy Award winner, wanted a Detroit setting that reflected her hometown.
“It’s nice to shed a little light in the world,” said HarPaz, whose professional engagements just before the pandemic included being an MC for major events as well as an actor. “That’s what we tried to do.”
Watch the video below.