Thanks to Netta, Next Year in Jerusalem
OpinionEurovision and Israel

Thanks to Netta, Next Year in Jerusalem

The Eurovision win comes as Israel celebrates the capital's unity 51 years ago and the U.S. Embassy moves.

Rabbi David Geffen

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem resident and Atlanta native Rabbi David Geffen sends these painted rocks as a special blessing to Netta Barzilai.
Jerusalem resident and Atlanta native Rabbi David Geffen sends these painted rocks as a special blessing to Netta Barzilai.

The way you can feel the excitement and joy here in Israel is to look at the faces of the newscasters morning and evening, which are full of smiles.

Israeli TV correspondents in Lisbon, where the Eurovision contest was held, cannot hold back stupendous praise for Israeli winner Netta Barzilai; foreign correspondents were also amazingly complimentary.

We were shown many of the European networks praising the victory. I turned to CNN, which offered reserved praise.

Netta is a most engaging young woman. Her song “Toy” is presented in a fascinating fashion — her specialty. Not only does she sing, but she also emits the sound of a joyous clucking chicken, a presentation never heard before.

My cabdriver the morning after the victory, a 40-year-old native with sons 5 and 10, caught the spirit of the day.

He was very verbal. “Last week we showed Iran that Israel will not stand for any of the threats and installation of military weaponry in Syria. Let them fire their rockets, which never reached us. We showed what our air force could do. Our pilots fired from afar and hit the targets in Syria, destroying them completely.

Netta Barzilai is the Eurovision champion. (Photo via Twitter, @nettabarzilai)

“Now, last night, our own Netta sang with much happiness before the Europeans and for the world. The official voters from each country would not express their true feelings about her and did not permit her to get their votes. The European public, who voted for her via the Internet, carried Netta to victory.”

Earlier this year in the Israeli “American Idol” competition that chose our representative to Eurovision, Netta appeared and swept the judges and Israelis off their feet. You have to see her to believe what kind of performer she is.

Week after week, Netta triumphed on Israeli TV on our program known as “On to Eurovision.” We viewers had to admit that at times we were skeptical. Our full-figured young woman, Netta, reminded some of us old folks of Kate Smith and maybe even Ethel Merman.

But there was a tremendous difference: This Israeli was not singing a patriotic song or a pulsating Broadway melody; Netta was exploding in Hebrew in a manner never seen before.

Each week in Israel, working to be our representative, Netta captured our hearts and souls. When she won locally, Israelis felt that she had a wonderful chance to triumph.

By coincidence, in 1978 and 1979, the first two years after we made aliyah, Israeli singers won the Eurovision contest. The song that triumphed in 1978 and surprised everyone was “Ah Boni — Bee.” It was sung for a while here, but Yizhar Cohen, the singer, never became a true celebrity.

The following year, because we won in 1978, the competition was held in Jerusalem. Israel won a second time with a song that has become a standard ballad here: “Hallelujah,” sung by Gali Atari, a rising star.

For Israel’s 70th anniversary celebration at Mount Herzl a few weeks ago, Gali Atari sang the song with exuberance as she had in 1979. Many of you probably have sung it or heard it at festive Israeli events.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is certainly special, but the Hebrew “Hallelujah” has a spirit all its own.

When Netta was interviewed Saturday night before the actual event in Lisbon, she made some interesting comments. “Certainly, I would like to win,” she began, “but this experience has been unforgettable. When you listen to top Israeli singers/judges praise you, you begin to recognize that you have grown into a legitimate performer. Their words are carrying me through Eurovision, since I now know what my future can be.”

Then she added: “Singing is a way of raising the spirits of the listeners when they are happy and when they are sad. If my musical words can raise the spirit of any who hear me, I will be so happy. Winning is nice, but having your music influence others is my greatest hope.”

As you can imagine, at 3 a.m. Sunday when the results were announced, Israelis were ecstatic. Similar to their joy for basketball championships, they jumped into the pool in front of Tel Aviv City Hall. The TV showed their faces, and even some middle-agers were in the pool.

I live in Jerusalem, so I was not able to make it there. But I felt just like them.

In 1978 and 1979, there was a different voting system and less hate for Israel. The two winners won the votes of the competing countries, which was the way it was done 40 years ago.

In recent years, good Israeli performers have lost because they are Israelis. In addition to a panel for each country’s vote, there is now a popular vote from the citizens of all the competitors.

On Saturday night, Israel was behind as the initial tallies were announced — but then came the popular vote, and our Netta won overwhelmingly.

Because I cannot really describe a singer’s performances, you will have to watch her song “Toy” online.

Jerusalem Day, Sunday, May 13, marks 51 years since Jerusalem became one again.

At 3 in the afternoon, 45,000 people will march through the streets of Jerusalem, waving Israeli flags.

It is now a tradition; they march to the Kotel. That sacred space is filled with young and old, who show the world that this is our city, our eternal capital.

Monday, May 14, the United States officially moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The partition plan that passed Nov. 29, 1947, specified that Jerusalem would be an international city, not a capital for anyone. But David Ben-Gurion in 1949 made it clear to whom Jerusalem belonged. He moved the Knesset and all the offices of the government to Jerusalem.

The United Nations threatened him, but he knew what the center of Israel was and is: Jerusalem. No other city in Israel would suffice.

At times the past 70 years some countries have had their embassies in Jerusalem. But country after country left Jerusalem in recent years and moved their embassies to other cities, many Tel Aviv. The United States set up shop in Tel Aviv in 1948 and remained there — until now.

Many American presidents promised in their campaigns to move the embassy. Each one bowed to Arab pressure, U.N. pressure and European pressure and kept the embassy in Tel Aviv.

President Donald Trump promised and delivered.

Recent Israeli analyses as to why it has happened so smoothly credit U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. He is a practicing Jew. His father was a noted Conservative rabbi. People have criticized him for some of his opinions, but when it came to Jerusalem, he knew he had to complete what others proposed and failed to do.

He and the president would not bow to any outside criticism. As they say, this was a done deal, and Monday, on your TV or the Internet, you can bear witness to this great moment in the history of our nation and our people.

Like you, I can only watch the celebration and official move on TV because I do not have any credentials that would permit me to have a ticket. I will watch a nes (miracle) that I never expected when I listened to my zaydie, Rav Tuvia Geffen, speak at Shearith Israel on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel was born.

This afternoon of Jerusalem Day, TV has built up my enthusiasm, so I might work my way through the crowds to go to the Kotel. If I do, I will write about it so you also can feel what the ruach (spirit) and happiness are in our eternal capital and at our Wall, where the Holy Temple stood. What a day, never to be forgotten.

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