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The View from San Francisco: Lisboa – Jerusalem

by | May 14, 2018

The View from San Francisco: Lisboa – Jerusalem

by | May 14, 2018 | 2018 ESC General, Eurovision, Featured, Highlights | 1 comment

I’m a liar. There’s no way around it so I might as well just say it.

I said I could take it easy this season. I said that I felt detached enough that I could go through the final free from nerves. And I was actually right for the most part – until the televote results started, and I found myself muting them because I was slightly too nervous (even though I was certain we would win the public vote). And I absolutely did cry as soon as Israel was announced as the winner. I have to give it to the system – even when the hosts mess it up, it’s still designed in such a way that you have absolutely no time to process anything. You’d think that having the same winner that was predicted all season would be somewhat obvious, at least in retrospect, but the last two weeks didn’t feel like the narrative of a story that was writing itself as expected. At least I was stubborn enough to stick to it all the way through, despite a mounting sensation of having absolutely zero clue what would happen.

For a person who had zero clue, having guessed the three most possible winners last night as Israel, Cyprus and Italy – and in that order – isn’t too bad, though. And I actually want to say that I’m absolutely thrilled for my two favorite songs this season, Italy and Austria, to have done so well on at least one side of the vote. In a season in which I actively loved five songs, having three of them reach the top five and the one from my country actually win feels like a pretty nice way for the universe to apologize for everything else it put me through over the last few months. My other two favorites, France and Portugal, didn’t do quite as well, but I could see the French result coming, and while I was hoping Portugal would fare better, seeing it in a very typical Portuguese position wasn’t really that surprising.

I also had a soft spot for SuRie and her song for the entire season, and seeing her performance and the way she handled the intrusion – something that had me shaken, even – was a great demonstration of character and professionalism. I am sorry that she had to be tested in that way, but so very impressed with how she dealt with it nonetheless and relieved to see her safe and sound. Some things are more important than music and competitions.

That last thing is one of the many elements that made watching the Israeli win and the subsequent reactions back home so special, too. Not only had “Toy” been such a popular song in Israel since its revelation – the biggest success of any song I can remember, well before its eventual win – but the country as a whole walked this incredible journey together with Netta down a path I never imagined seeing us walk. Maybe this entire season was about journeys, really. The journey of one fan from not caring to celebrating her country winning; the journey of a team that took the reins of the Israeli selection four years ago and transformed a recent history of repeated failure into four consecutive qualifications and a win; the journey of a new broadcaster that will celebrate its first birthday in two days’ time with the honor of being handed the responsibility of hosting next year; the journey of a country from closeted fans to celebrations in the markets and city squares on Saturday night; and the journey of one girl from social isolation and low self-esteem and confidence to prime-time adulation on European television.

I went through dozens of stories, videos and tweets after Netta’s victory on Saturday night. The Israeli press covered it pretty much like having just won the World Cup, including live broadcasts of the celebrations across different TV channels at 2:30am. There were so many things to write about, but actually, the tweet that caught me the most was one that I saw almost by chance, one which got almost no likes or retweets. An old friend of Netta tweeted, “And to think that 6 years ago I had to get her drunk to have her go on stage in an open mic evening. I’m so proud of you”. Just take a moment to think about that person: the one who eventually went on a reality show just to try and get some exposure, ended up barely winning it – she was second in the audience vote – and then went through the incredible pressure of being a fan and bookmakers’ favorite for two months and the response over the last couple of weeks, only to pull it off when it matters the most. And despite not having won the audience vote initially, she has quickly become a role model in Israel, in addition to the huge success of “Toy” as a song. At Purim (the Jewish Halloween, if you will) girls dressed up like her. People who I never heard say one word about Eurovision posted her videos performing other songs (I almost spat on my computer in shock when I saw my cousin had posted Netta’s acoustic cover of “A-ba-ni-bi”).

The tweets last night expressed that too. Shiri (no, not that one) wrote that “if you told little Shiri 30 years ago that a woman like Netta can do this, I wouldn’t have believed you. Every day the world showed me in a thousand ways that big women can’t be successful and that big women can’t dream. And here, here, here we have this.” Shahar wrote, “wow, the tears just stream down with all this emotion, and all I can think about is that Netta’s win is also the win of all the special, different people, wherever we are.” And Alon got me with a tweet about his young daughter: “The thing that makes me the happiest about this win is what it means for my daughter, Alma. At 9½ years old, Netta is her hero, and this is exactly what that kind of hero should be like.”

The other Israeli Wonder Woman celebrated on Instagram and posted a video of her watching Netta’s winning moments (you can hear her say in the background: “she’s so lovely, she’s so sweet, what a champion!”), although I was slightly disappointed to not get a Deadpool reaction video. Gal Gadot was not alone: every other celebrity in Israel seems to have posted an Instagram story broadcasting a live reaction to the end of the voting or Netta’s reprise performance. Was anyone watching anything else?

The judges from the Rising Star show watched the result from different places around the globe – Harel Skaat in Israel and the successful music duo, Static and Ben-El, in Los Angeles – but the reactions were the same. The videos from everywhere, from the delegation backstage to the hotel with all the fans and the people back in Israel, just kept coming in.

(The video is in Hebrew but the important things are universal.)

Lucy Aharish, an Israeli-Arab journalist and one of my favorite people in the world, tweeted: “So my conclusion is this: politics can be racist and anti-Semitic, but when it comes to people, they can see beyond that… and we have this larger than life woman who broke so many stigmas and showed there’s no such thing as impossible.”

The day after was full of celebrations as well, with an entire country – as far as I can tell from the social media feeds and texts from family and friends – walking around at work and school like zombies (Sunday is a regular workday in Israel).The TV channels dedicated full shows to the win, in a country where there’s always so much news the headlines change every two hours, and interviewed everyone, starting with her parents who wore T-shirts with a “yes chi-ken” artwork and ending with every person who has ever represented Israel.

I was particularly touched listening to an interview with Doron Medalie, co-composer of “Toy”, who is a very successful Israeli composer who often comes across as a bit too pompous and perhaps self-centered. It’s easy to dislike him, but every time I hear a proper interview with him I remember that sometime it’s very easy to judge people by first impressions or the masks they wear. Talking in the next morning, sleepless and disbelieving, he was speaking quietly and on the verge of tears.

Asked about Netta’s words concerning the conversations she has with younger Netta, Medalie was asked how it is like talking to young Doron:

“Everything I did here was to come full circle from when I was a kid. This kid’s first memory is Ofra Haza singing ‘Hi’ at Eurovision when I was five years old. Eurovision is my life, it’s in my DNA. I think I manage to write hits and catchy choruses only thanks to the Eurovision Song Contest and its three-minute rule. It’s my sixth time at Eurovision, my third time as a composer. I’m 40 years old and everything I wanted in life just happened.”

As Lindsay D once sang: No Dream Impossible.

This is what I’ve always loved about Eurovision, and what it was always supposed to be. ESC is meant to be a place where we all come together, where we all get to hear and learn from other cultures, other places, and most importantly other people. And it’s always been important to me that the song and the artist sent by Israel are something I feel represents that crazy, complicated country that I come from. For many of us, when we look at other countries, our view is automatically narrowed to what we know about that place and what we see about it in the news – and while those realities definitely exist, and the importance of discussing and resolving them is always there, it becomes too easy to forget that countries are not just that one thing alone. All those different places are made first and foremost out of people. People who have different opinions and support different ideas and love different things, care about different things. I am not naïve, and I know the next year will inevitably become a lot more political than I would have wanted it to be (and that has nothing to do with where I stand), but the people in Israel – as people – are way more than whatever you see about the country in the news.

I know that many Israeli fans have always felt that people don’t like us. Sure, some don’t. Others have a lot of problems with our government’s politics (God knows I do too, and did I already mention how my friends and I enjoyed seeing Netta pretty much hanging up the phone in Netanyahu’s face on Saturday?), but the problem is that hatred and negativity are always louder than anything else. So Israeli fans have always heard the negative voices, the voices that were hating, while it’s been a long time since they had a way to see that there are a lot more people who don’t live their life by making decisions based on a flag or a country name.

When Portugal won last year, I wrote a very long article (hard to believe, I know) about how much more beautiful that win was just due to the level of connection they had with their entry, and I was happy to experience the same thing this year. Having seen Dana International in 1998, which was also a very important and iconic moment in society back then, there was not the same kind of excitement leading up to the competition. In part, that was because the song itself, while important for ESC and for Israel, was more manufactured for the contest and was never really something that sounded like it came from us. To this day “Diva” still isn’t one of my favorite songs, for all the occasion as a whole was extremely important to me and many others in Israel in terms of what it meant for our society. “Toy”, however – despite being in English – sounds so very much like a song that comes from the depths of our music industry, which makes complete sense since the two people behind it have been involved in so many success stories there over the last years.

It’s not an easy song, and many people – Salvador Sobral included – will find it to be three minutes of noise, which is entirely understandable. It is noisy. It is very ethnic. It is incredibly crazy. It has chicken sounds. It is not as listener-friendly as “Diva”, “Hallelujah” or “A-ba-ni-bi”, and it never tried to be. Much like “Amar pelos dois” last year, it was exactly what it was supposed to be. It was a song that worked for the performer, a song that worked for the occasion, and a song that sounded like where it came from: loud, crazy, and five thousand different things all at once. Take it or leave it. Like last year, like every year, you don’t need everyone to love it; you just need enough people who do. Everyone else will get to have those years where the songs they like do better. But not today.

As we say in Hebrew, to next year in Jerusalem, which might be all politics to some of you, but will always be home to me. Even more specifically, my favorite basketball team – Hapoel Jerusalem – actually plays in the Pais Arena Jerusalem, which is a leading candidate for hosting Eurovision. I have always said that this was the place outside my own home where I felt at home the most, so it doesn’t get closer than this. As it happens, the team has a tradition of tweeting a smiley face whenever they sign a new player, and an image welcoming the player to Jerusalem and to our Pais Arena home. Yesterday they welcomed a new friend.

And as Netta says: Kapara Aleichem, Europe!

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1 Comment

  1. Dajin

    What a great article! And damn, i wanted to blog about that too, but how could i ever give an equal resumee? Thank a lot for the perspective. I think, i will link to that. ^^


  1. ESC Resumee – Von Symbolkraft und Missbrauch. – Dannimax bloggt! - […] Aber wer weiß, vielleicht kann der Charakter des ESC am Ende ja doch zumindest ein wenig abfärben. Vielleicht gelingt…

1 Comment

  1. Dajin

    What a great article! And damn, i wanted to blog about that too, but how could i ever give an equal resumee? Thank a lot for the perspective. I think, i will link to that. ^^


  1. ESC Resumee – Von Symbolkraft und Missbrauch. – Dannimax bloggt! - […] Aber wer weiß, vielleicht kann der Charakter des ESC am Ende ja doch zumindest ein wenig abfärben. Vielleicht gelingt…

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