Where was the Judaism at Israel’s Eurovision?

'At Eurovision a vital piece of Israeli identity was questioned from the start and unfortunately, remained obscure.'

May 30, 2019 15:16

If there is one thing Israelis want (beyond peace), its for the world to see us as we see ourselves. The diversity of our people, the beauty of our land, the richness of our food, and the strength of our spirit.

The recent Eurovision contest in Tel Aviv was a golden opportunity for Israel to make that dream come true, and, with the theme “Dare to Dream,” it did just that.

Yet a vital piece of Israeli identity was questioned from the start and unfortunately, remained obscure.

Almost immediately after Netta Barzilai’s win last May, the contest was controversial. The The European Broadcasting Union, organiser of the annual song contest, asked Israel not to host it in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, citing the “politically charged” nature of the city.

Many felt this request was wrong, to the extent that Miri Regev, Israel’s Culture and Sports minister, said that if Eurovision wouldn’t be held in Jerusalem, it shouldn’t be in Israel at all. But once the decision was made to hold it in Tel Aviv, no one looked back. Preparations were in full swing.

Elections came and went, and so did hundreds of rockets, but in true Israeli style, we turned from shadows of war to unbridled celebration—never mind the many efforts to boycott the event. The usual suspects sent angry letters, released anti-Israel videos and shared petitions to cancel the show. Yet, the show went on.

And Israel did not disappoint. The production was massive and professionally executed. Numerous veteran viewers on social media praised the show, saying it was the best Eurovision in years.

By far, the greatest discussion focused on the “postcards”, little clips created for each act and aired before their respective performances. This feature of Eurovision may have been invented in the 70s to fill time, but Israel used it to perfection, introducing the beauty and variety of the country to the contestants and more than 200 million viewers around the world.

Filmed in dozens of spots around the country, the postcards were (as one viewer said) “an absolute love letter to Israel”. From the Judean desert to the Jaffa port, from the Galilean hills to the Dead Sea, all of Israel’s natural and manmade beauty was on display and lovingly included in the clips, each of which featured one of the visiting artists dancing at various locations in Israel.

If the land was showcased, so were the people. Hosts included supermodel Bar Refaeli, TV presenter Assi Azar, poet and presenter Lucy Ayoub and TV personality Erez Tal. Two women (one Jewish, one Arab) and two men (one a gay Mizrachi, the other a heterosexual Algerian-Ashkenazi) professionally managed the show and introduced the world to real Israelis.

The Shalva Band represented the talents of Israel’s differently abled population, bringing down the house with a rendition of A Million Dreams. After witnessing their moving performance, many wondered why Shalva wasn’t Israel’s representative in this year’s Eurovision. The band had pulled out of the competition when their request not to rehearse on Shabbat was declined.

Which brings me to the point where I feel Eurovision failed — at least in my dream of representing all of Israel before the world. Where was the Jewish pride? Where were the religious guests? Why was Jewish culture, Jewish history nowhere to be found? The only Hebrew songs were an admittedly stellar performance of Hallelujah (a previous Eurovision winner) and Netta’s new song, Nana Banana.

No homage to the history of this land, to its Jewish identity, not even a presentation in Hebrew or a blessing to end Shabbat

A viewer would be hard pressed to know that it was hosted by the world’s only Jewish country, other than from the masses of Israeli flags, waving their signature Stars of David. Was that on purpose? Was it out of fear that Israel is accepted when we display our success and diversity, but not when we show our Judaism?

I feel tremendous pride in Israel’s people, innovations, and acceptance of difference. I am proud to be part of a country that aches to share its best with the world.

But at a time when having Jewish identity puts people at risk, when British MPs leave a political party they otherwise believe in due to antisemitism, when German officials warn Jews against wearing kippot, when college students in the US hide their Jewishness for fear of harassment on campus, I wish the Jewish state had lead the way and worn its Jewish identity with well-deserved pride — right alongside its diversity, strength and beauty.


Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is a writer and activist


May 30, 2019 15:16

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