It’s not often that fundraising luncheons for American Jewish organizations erupt in song and dance. And it’s certainly rare to hear an honoree break out in Arabic song. These did take place at an unusually moving event in New York on behalf of US/Israel Women-to-Women, an American organization that funds feminist causes in Israel. The honorees this spring were 31-year-old Palestinian-Israeli actress and singer Amal Murkus, who sang in Arabic “The Peace Bird,” and singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman, whose soulful compositions have already become the canon for feminist seders, healing events and synagogue liturgy. Reading from her “Letter to Amal,” Friedman said she was moved when Murkus told her, “‘I love my land,’ and the only thing I could say back was, ‘I love my land too.'” The two sang together onstage, quite unrehearsed, learning tunes as they went.
Murkus has been known throughout her public career in Israel not only for her voice but for her efforts to support children’s and women’s organizations. Speaking with LILITH, she gave credit for her activism to her mother and to her almost entirely female household—six daughters, no sons. “I grew up in a very political atmosphere, all the time being in touch with what’s happening around you.” She says she was encouraged in her family “not to give up as a woman,” despite her culture in which “man is king of the house.”
Murkus admits some feelings of conflict about being honored by a Jewish organization where some people might hear the word “Palestinian” and think “enemy.” But, she says, the US/Israel organizers put her at ease. “I know this organization is not being bad to my people.”