November 16, 2018

Talking Creativity

Israel's Netta performs after winning the Grand Final of Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena hall in Lisbon, Portugal, May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

There is Netta Barzilai, who won the Eurovision Song Contest. Ohad Naharin, celebrated as one of the world’s pre-eminent contemporary choreographers. Yotam Ottolenghi, renowned for his restaurants and cookbooks. Adi Nes’ photography. Sigalit Landau’s art. The entrepreneurs of the Startup Nation.

All of them Israeli, recognized internationally for their creativity.

“Braisheet barah.” They are the first two words of the Torah. Braisheet, loosely translated as “In the beginning.” But the second word is “barah,” undeniably translated as “created.” A word of action. There is a significant message that the second word and very first action in the Torah is to “create.”

We Jews, whether believers or not, take this message to heart. We are a creative people. Creativity has been and continues to be our lifeline.

In Jewish life today, Israel has proven to be the most creative force. Israelis push their creative output to a level of excellence in order to compete on the world stage. Their creativity is one of national viability. I witnessed this reality three years ago while in the audience of the Batsheva Dance Company’s 50th anniversary celebration at the Tel Aviv Opera House. On the stage was Naharin’s globally embraced dance performance, “Echad Mi Yodayah,” inspired by the Passover allegory, “Who Knows One,” which we sing on seder night. For each numbered stanza of the song, accompanied by the traditional melody, there was another version of modern dance. Naharin had raised Jewish culture to a level of international acceptance and celebration, infusing it with modern creative relevancy.

Can this level of creative excellence inspired by Jewish thought be the output of American Jewish organizations?

What could be the collaboration between Israel’s creative output and the rest of the Jewish world?

A different dynamic is constellated when Jewish creative output is the result of a national identity as we see in Israel, as opposed to a communal identity that we see in America. Jewish organizations are only creating for a small community within the larger America.

There are individual American Jews who are competing creatively on the world stage. Writers. Actors. Musicians. Singers. Architects. Researchers. Business people. Many Nobel Prize winners. But let’s not confuse them with the creative output funded by Jewish organizations.

Creativity needs competition and to be consumed by a wide, discerning audience in order to be pushed toward excellence. But who is the competition for the creative output of American Jewish organizations? Who is the larger audience?

The competition is all of American culture. It is the dominant culture of the society. Can Jewish culture and output be as compelling and meaningful to a new generation as general American culture and output? Can any small community’s culture be as compelling and meaningful as the dominant culture?

These are the big questions facing the community today when comparing organized American Jewish life to the life that is being lived in Israel. There, Jewish expression is not the same as it is in other countries. It is woven into the daily fabric of existence, taking on many different faces and manifestations, because it is in the DNA of the dominant culture. Sometimes, the Jewish root in the Israeli manifestation is more veiled than it is in America.

We need to begin a big conversation about Jewish creativity. What should be its process and methodologies? What should be its standards of excellence? What could be the collaboration between Israel’s creative output and the creative output of the rest of the Jewish world? We have to compare the creative output between us, with judgments and critique, just as is done in the film and art world. We need to provoke this discussion as an interchange between Israel and global Jewry.

Creativity is among the most prominent common threads that brings us together. It gives us life. It is always our beginning. The Torah tells us. Netta Barzilai proved it. American Jewish life needs it.

Gary Wexler is an adjunct professor in the master’s program at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

This Girl Is On Fire

Israel's Netta poses during the news conference after winning the Grand Final of Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena hall in Lisbon, Portugal, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

The evening that Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won Eurovision 2018, my son and I began to watch the biopic “Pelé: Birth of a Legend,” the early life of the renowned African-Brazilian soccer player.

Pelé grew up poor in 1950s Brazil and faced continual racism from Europeans and lighter-skinned Brazilians. But from an early age, his parents taught him to face life with dignity: “Don’t feel doubt or shame,” his father tells him in the film. “Have the courage to embrace who you really are.”

Pelé revolutionized soccer for Brazilians — inspiring a pride in the country’s uniqueness. “We don’t all play the same,” says a coach in the film, “but that’s what makes us who we are.”

A similar message of embracing both excellence and difference can be felt in a video that my son, Alexander, and I stumbled upon a few weeks ago. Angelica Hale, 9, won the “Golden Buzzer” on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” last year for her magnificent rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire.”

I must confess: I’m not a watcher of talent shows. But I have personally found this video deeply inspiring, even more so after reading that Angelica, who is part Filipino, had to undergo a life-saving kidney transplant at age 4. Fearless and resolute, she both belted out and personified the lyrics:

“She’s got both feet on the ground;

And she’s burning it down.”

This is feminism, I told Alexander. A young girl can get up on stage and make a song even more layered and soulful than the original recording (sorry, Alicia). Moreover, achieving something great is far more empowering than playing the victim. Angelica, like Pelé, has no interest in being a victim. Both don’t want the world to feel sorry for them: They want the world to love them for their unique, outstanding gifts.

“I love my country,” she told an audience that has been taught to hate her country.

Somehow, 25-year-old Netta was able to combine all of these sentiments into a magical song, “Toy,” and performance that, despite itself, took Europe’s breath away.

“Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature;

I don’t care about your modern-day preachers.”

“Toy” is also a song about female empowerment, but perhaps even more, it’s about owning your individuality. “Thank you for choosing different, for accepting differences between us, for celebrating diversity,” Netta told the massive Eurovision audience in her acceptance speech.

But Netta clearly has no patience for the victimhood part of today’s #MeToo politics: “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy.” Nor does she have time for an identity politics that has no space for Jews. “I love my country,” she told an audience that has been taught to hate her country. “Next time, in Jerusalem.”

Whether the Europeans who voted for her got the deeper message is less important than the fact that they voted for Israel, despite every effort made by BDSers to prevent this. And Israel won by doing what Israel does best: bringing light into the world. Teaching the politically correct that individuality, creativity — inspiration — is not politically incorrect. That in fact, not becoming what others want us to be is our greatest strength.

Netta, like Pelé and Angelica, doesn’t want the world’s pity — or the world’s harassment. In fact, she included what could be construed as a word of warning for haters: “Wonder woman, don’t you ever forget; You’re divine and he’s about to regret.”

In the Pelé film, a Swedish coach calls the darker-skinned Brazilians “abnormal.” Israelis — Jews — have been called that and much worse. We don’t need to fabricate victimhood — but we also have no desire to wallow in it.

The Jewish people are not the world’s toy, to be taken out and abused when it’s having a bad day. “Have the courage to embrace who you really are,” Pelé’s father tells him in the film. It’s well past time that Jews did precisely that. Enough begging the left’s “social justice warriors” to include us.

Not surprisingly, these tolerant, compassionate folks were quick to try to shame Netta after she won, bizarrely calling her performance “cultural appropriation.” And some of Europe’s leftist pols saw Netta’s victory as a great opportunity to call for renewed boycotts against Israel. (So is “justice” their motivation — or jealousy? I get so confused with these compassionate types.)

Netta is not responding to the haters.  And why should she? She’s too busy “lighting up the night.” World, get used to it.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

Israel Wins 2018 Eurovision Contest

Israel's Netta attends the news conference after winning the Grand Final of Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena hall in Lisbon, Portugal, May 13, 2018. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

Israel won the 2018 Eurovision singing competition in Libson, Portugal on May 12, meaning that the contest will be held in Jerusalem next year.

Israeli singer Netta Barzilai secured the victory with her performance of the song “Toy,” an uptempo techno pop song with the catchy line, “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy!” Throughout the performance, Barzilai engaged in chicken dance moves.

Barzilai finished with 529 points from the judges and viewers in the competition. As she held the trophy, the 25-year-old singer proclaimed, “I love my country. Next time in Jerusalem!”

Barzilai also told her fans in a video posted to Twitter, “Thank you for choosing me. Thank you for choosing different. Thank you for choosing daring. I love you, keep that going. Do good to others, be good to yourselves. That’s about it, let’s party!”

The streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem erupted into celebration from Barzilai’s win. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Barzilai in a phone call and paid homage to her in his Sunday cabinet meeting.

“These days Jerusalem is being blessed with many gifts,” Netanyahu said. “We received another one last night with Netta’s thrilling and suspenseful victory. The gift is that Eurovision will come to Jerusalem next year; we will be very proud to host it.”

Israel: We’re Not Your Toy, You Stupid Haters

Photo from Twitter.

Netta Barzilai’s exhilarating song, with the memorable hook, “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy,” is an empowering anthem to all those who are demeaned for not fitting the mold.

About 200 million viewers from around the world watched Barzilai perform the song and take first prize for Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday night in Lisbon. Considering the abuse that Israel continues to receive in international circles— the great majority of United Nations condemnations go against the Jewish state; a BDS movement that is relentless, and so on— the victory couldn’t come at a better time.

Why? Because Barzilai’s message is also Israel’s message to the world: We’re quirky, we’re not perfect, but we’re fearless and we love life. Oh, and one more thing for all you anti-Semites: We’re not your toy that you can easily abuse. All those condemnations won’t shake our confidence or our love of life.

“My message is that you don’t have to fit the normal standard model of how a person should look, think, talk and create in order to succeed,” Barzilai said in an interview. “We’re only here for a minute — we better enjoy the ride.”

Most Israelis instinctively understand that their country is treated unfairly; that no Israeli sin can justify the over-the-top global obsession with condemning their country. They get it. That’s why they keep their mojo; that’s why the BDS movement has failed to make a dent in their self-esteem.

Most Israelis know, as well, that their country does plenty of good; that, for example, no country has done more to fight the humanitarian crisis in Syria. They know that in 2016, Israel launched Operation Good Neighbor with a field hospital at the Syrian border and a medical staff around the clock, and that in 2017 alone, 685 Syrian children received critical medical care.

Israelis know that the keys to their success are not to wallow in victimhood, not to let failures demoralize them, and not to allow a dangerous neighborhood take away their zest for living. They know they fight wars because they have to, not because they want to.

Yes, of course, Israelis would love to be loved by the world—who wouldn’t? But Israelis have learned to take the world’s hostility in stride. Since they know they deserve better, they’re not paralyzed by self-hatred or guilt.

On the contrary, instead of whining, they’re too busy living their lives, which includes doing amazing things like writing irresistible songs that remind stupid Jew-haters not to mess with them.

Everything you need to know about Toy- the Israeli song that is taking over the world

The Eurovision singing contest – one of the biggest annual cultural events in Europe – is will take place in Portugal this May. And for the first time in what seems to be forever, Israel seems to have a winner. With more than 5 million views on YouTube and raging reviews, side by side with a powerful message and a unique artist, Toy seems to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Toy was created by Doron Medalie together with Stav Beger, who joined forces with Netta Barzilai, the performer. Barzilai is a young singer and an up-and-coming star, who took first place at the reality singing contest – The Next Star to the Eurovision 2018, and got to become our ambassador at the event.

Barzilai had won us all over during this season of The Next Star, thanks to her unique sound and inspiring personality.

Now, she is expressing herself, as a musician and as a person, in an empowering song, which combines a little bit of quirkiness with an important message.

In an interview to ESC Today – Doron Medalie, co-creator of the song, talked about the strong message of Toy: “That’s a bingo for me. And when Netta looks and behaves the way she does, so it turns toy into ‘I’m not your toy, don’t play with me.’ Let’s use toys to say something different about the #MeToo movement.”

The song was released less than two weeks ago, and is already ranking support from all across the globe, including from the Arab world. The Foreign Ministry shared a video of the song on its Arabic-language Facebook page, which has 1.5 million followers, and it received some unexpected support (side by side with hate words for Israel, but still…). For instance, Abu Majd from Saudi Arabia wrote: “This isn’t the type of music I like, but this song has everything it takes to become an international hit.”

Netta Barzilai will perform Toy in the first half of Semi-Final 1 on Tuesday 8 May 2018, and currently, Eurovision experts are betting on Toy to win the contest. Fingers crossed!

You can watch the music video here, and let me know what you think in the comments below:


Israel fails to qualify for Eurovision finals

Israel failed to advance to the Eurovision Song Competition final for the second consecutive year.

The eclectic band Izabo performed the song “Time” on Tuesday in the first semifinal of the competition, held this year in Baku, Azerbaijan. The Israeli Broadcasting Authority had unilaterally selected the band in February to represent Israel in the competition.

It marked the first time since the semifinal round was introduced in 2004 that Israel failed in back-to-back years to advance to the finals.

Israel has produced two top 10 finishers in the past eight years: Shiri Maimon in 2005 and Boaz Ma’uda in 2008. Both were contestants on “Kokhav Nolad,” Israel’s equivalent of “American Idol.”

Last year, in a process that heavily weighted public voting, 1998 Eurovision champion Dana International received overwhelming viewer support and won the right to represent Israel. Nevertheless, the transsexual singer failed to impress Eurovision voters with her 2011 entry, “Ding Dong.”

Turkish Jews celebrate country’s Eurovision pick, but singer would prefer quiet about his religion

Turkey’s Jews are pleased as can be that for the first time, a Jew will be representing their country at the Eurovision song contest.

But the singer, Can Bonomo, isn’t exactly trumpeting his accomplishment – at least not the Jewish part.

“We would like to inform that Mr. Can Bonomo is bound to refuse answering all the questions about his religious beliefs, anti-Semitism and political subjects,” Bonomo’s spokesman, Ece Kahraman, wrote in a statement to JTA.

Bonomo has taken pains to tell fans that he will be participating in Eurovision as a Turk, not as a Jew.

“My family came from Spain 540 years ago,” Bonomo said in an interview on the “Aksam” news show in a video posted Jan. 11 that has gone viral. “I am Turkish and I am representing Turkey, I will go out there with the Turkish flag and represent Turkey. I am an artist, a musician. That’s all that everybody needs to know.”

Prior to his appearance on “Aksam,” radical right-wing papers had accused Bonomo of being a tool of Zionists and Freemasons.

The way in which the anchor framed her question in the interview probably didn’t put him at ease.

“People might say you were chosen because Turkey wants to ingratiate itself with Israeli lobby groups,” she said. “I would like to get your comments.”

The intimation that the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corp., which makes the Eurovision selection, would kowtow to pro-Israel groups seems a little bizarre with Turkey’s moderate Islamist government doing its best to distance itself from Israel. One of the string of crises that fueled the current tensions between the two countries, in fact, was the broadcast in 2010 on state-run TV of a drama series that portrayed Israelis as harvesting organs from Iraqis.

It is true that Bonomo’s selection for the contest, which is being held in May in Baku, Azerbaijan, has sparked a glint of hope among Turkey’s 20,000 Jews, who have watched anxiously as their country’s historically strong relations with Israel have deteriorated.

“It is the first time in history that a talented young Turkish Jewish singer will represent Turkey in the Eurovision Song Contest,” Derya Agis, a scholar of Turkish Jewish culture and history at Brandeis University, wrote on her Facebook page. “Turkey will show the importance of diversity in Europe where anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia have been problems since centuries.”

Or, put a little less academically by Denise Saporta, a spokeswoman for Turkey’s Jewish community: “A Jewish boy is going to represent Turkey!” she told JTA. “We’re all very proud.”

Saporta downplayed the attacks on Bonomo, saying they were typical of political factions that deride minorities in general and are not representative of Turks.

“This always happens with ‘firsts,’ ” she said. “If he were anything other than a Sunni Muslim male – a woman, even – these media would attack.”

Going by his Facebook fan page, Bonomo has a solid following among Turks of all stripes. The video of the “Aksam” interview drew hundreds of comments in support.  One fan, Osman Kural, denounced the “radical, right wing agitprop” and said it “in no way represents all of the country.”

Bonomo, 24, oozes hip, from his retro caps and his blazer over T-shirt look. His Twitter biography describes him as “musician/illustrator/writer/drunk/bast'E'rd. (- Chill dude.).” (His facility with English is another factor riling Turkish ultranationalists.)

EuroVisionary, a Eurovision fan site, describes the singer-songwriter’s style as “Istanbulian music that works with tunes from Alaturca to international indie style” with the Shins, Wax Poetic, the Kinks, the Libertines and the Beatles listed by the site as his influences. His vocals incorporate the rising and falling quartertones typical of his country’s music, and are set against throbbing drums and guitar and oud riffs.

Should Bonomo, who was born in the coastal city of Izmir, decide one day to shuck off his hesitancy about his Jewish roots, he might discover how they informed his music.

Jewish cafe singers drew crowds in the 1920s and 1930s with their modernized versions of their parents’ aching and ancient Ladino love ballads. A number of their modern Israeli interpreters, including Hadass Pal-Yarden and Yasmin Levy, have taken their acts to Turkey and won acclaim.

Jewish singer is Turkey’s pick for Eurovision

A Jewish singer will represent Turkey at the Eurovision song contest.

Can Bonomo of Izmir was Turkey’s pick for the annual songfest, Zaman’s online edition reported Tuesday. This year’s contest will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan, in May.

EuroVisionary, a Eurovision fan site, describes the 24-year-old singer-songwriter’s style as “Istanbulian music that works with tunes from Alaturca to international indie style” with the Shins, Wax Poetic, the Kinks, the Libertines and the Beatles as influences.

A board selected by the Turkish Radio and Television Corp. chooses the country’s contestant.

Dana International is Israel’s choice for Eurovision

Transgender pop diva Dana International will represent Israel at this year’s Eurovision song contest.

The Israeli music star won the chance to sing the Hebrew and English song “Ding Dong,” written by Zvika Pik, during a contest Tuesday night broadcast on Israeli television, where viewers voted for their choice. She won Eurovision in 1998 with the song “Diva,” also written by Pik.

Dana was known as Yaron Cohen before a sex change operation two decades ago.

Eurovision will be held May 14 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Dana will compete first in a semifinal two days earlier.

Israel requests Eurovision slot

Israel has been automatically slotted in the second semifinal of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest since the first falls on Israeli Memorial Day.

The semifinal slots are allocated by a special drawing, which will be held in January.

Israel would have withdrawn from the contest if it had not been assured of the May 12 semifinal.

Israel withdrew in 1980 and 1984 because the contest conflicted with the observance of its Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron.

Rita, Israel’s reigning diva, plays intimate evening in L.A.

The Rita show in Rio de Janeiro this February

Only Rita could have pulled it off.

Her famous “One” concert was the first time any Israeli recording artist has attempted such an extravagant, multimedia performance. With its crew of 50 tumbling dancers, grandiose costumes, pyrotechnics and video art, the $5 million production looked like it came right off the Las Vegas Strip.

Last summer’s show at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center, which took its inspiration from Céline Dion’s year-round Caesar’s Palace concert, “A New Day,” drew close to 100,000 fans over a period of one month. That’s a lot of concertgoers for a country with a population of some 7 million, especially considering the concert was held during the height of the second Lebanon War.

“It was like a miracle,” said Rita, who much like Madonna and Cher eschews her last name. “It was a huge success.”

The concert proved that after 25 years on the stage, Rita is Israel’s most beloved diva. And at 45, the daring performer shows no signs of slowing down.

This month, Rita has something more intimate planned for Angelenos. Only 500 tickets are available for her June 5 performance at the American Jewish University’s (formerly the University of Judaism) Gindi Auditorium.

“My desire in bringing Rita to this location, as opposed to a larger venue which we could have easily sold, is to provide people the unique opportunity to experience an intimate evening with one of Israel’s best,” said Gady Levy, dean and vice president of the AJU’s department of continuing education. “What I believe Rita does best is connect with her audience during a show. The close, informal setting will allow her to connect with the audience even more.”

The Tehran-born singer, known for her passionate love ballads, already enjoys a built-in Los Angeles fan club. After the Islamic revolution in Iran in the late 1970s, most of her family in Iran split between Israel and Los Angeles, and she maintains close ties with her Los Angeles family, not to be confused with her Jewish fans abroad, who she also terms “family.”

Born in 1962, Rita Yahan-Farouz dreamed of performing from the time she was 4, when she sang into a microphone at her uncle’s engagement party, while standing on a chair.

“While singing, I remember it very clearly … very, very, very clearly…. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt like I was home,” she said.

Her Zionist father felt it was time to pack their bags in 1970 after Rita’s sister came home crying because she refused to recite a Muslim prayer at school. The singer moved to Israel with her family at age 8.

As a teenager in Israel, Rita worked her way through dance school, acting school and voice lessons. The day after performing one of her singles for the Israeli Pre-Eurovision Song Contest, the Persian beauty was mobbed on the bus by new fans.

“It was a Cinderella story,” she said. “I didn’t know that it became that I could never go on a bus again. I got out after two stations. The entire bus was on me, touching and asking, and I didn’t know what happened. It was strange, very strange, very new, very frightening.”

But Rita didn’t set out to be the Israeli idol she is today.

“You don’t think big,” she said. “You’re innocent. It’s not like now that everyone sees all these contests, like ‘American Idol.’ It’s much more something that burns inside of you that you want to sing to people — you don’t think about big success, fame, nothing like that. It’s much deeper.”

Rita is flattered by her comparison to Canadian American legend Celine Dion, although when asked who her American idols are, she answers with little hesitation: “Beyonce. I don’t know whether to kiss or hit her because she’s amazing. She’s really something. She sings, she dances. I like very much the last record of Christian Aguilera.”

She counts Kate Bush and Barbra Streisand among her earlier influences for their multifaceted talents.

Of Dion she said, “I think [she] has a great voice — a great, great voice — but I never sat and cried when I heard her.” Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny the similarities.

As a thespian, Rita has starred in Israel’s stage musicals of “My Fair Lady” and “Chicago.” Despite the occasional provocative, sexy dress, Rita, a mother of two (Meshi, 15, and Noam, 6) radiates a pure, “put together” image.

Rita married her teenage sweetheart, singer-songwriter Rami Kleinstein, who has written, arranged and produced many of her albums and who has performed at American Jewish University in the past. Their musical marriage is one of the most celebrated and enduring in Israel.

Rita’s attempt to break into the international market was cut short, in part, by her commitment to her family. She became pregnant with her second daughter while on tour in Europe promoting her English album, “A Time for Peace,” which sold just 20,000 copies.

“I think this is a very important decision to make,” she said. “I decided that I didn’t want to be famous and miserable when I come home alone. That’s why I had to decide that my main career will be in one place, so I could build a family with children and a husband.”

Old-school Rita at Eurovision 1990

MUSIC VIDEO: Teapacks — ‘Push the Button’ (Eurovision entry)

Quirky Israeli rockers TEAPACKS are this year’s official contestants in the 2007 Eurovision song contest and controversy is already brewing over the political nature of their entry “Push the Button.”


"A voice from the heavens/

Carries down to the whole world/

The angel is crying above/

Lamenting his son’s image."

Israeli countertenor David D’or might be singing about himself in the ethereal song, "A Voice From the Heavens." With a three-and-a-half-octave range, the crossover pop and classical star has been compared to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli with a Middle Eastern flavor.

This month, D’or joins the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble to celebrate its 20th anniversary, with "Neshama: Stories of the Soul," a multimedia production focusing on the central importance of Jerusalem as a symbol and experience of human life. "Neshama," which is funded in part by the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, a Jewish Federation beneficiary, uses music, song, visuals and narration spanning the time of creation until present day.

With six gold albums to his name in both the classical and popular genres, D’or is a perfect candidate to bring Jerusalem to life. Last month, the angelic singer was selected to represent Israel at the 49th Eurovision, the international song competition. Although Eurovision is often scoffed at internationally, and virtually ignored in America, a number of stars have gotten their start from the contest, like ABBA, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias. Since it began competing in 1973, Israel has won the contest three times, most infamously with transsexual Dana International in 1998.

D’or’s upcoming performance in Los Angeles is par for the course. He has often collaborated with other artists, beginning in the army and later at Habima Theater, with such artists as Habreirah Hativ’it, Shlomo Bar and Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. But neither Los Angeles nor Eurovision should make D’or sweat, because he has performed in the Vatican for the pope since 1995.

While D’or’s eclectic performances of "Amazing Grace," "Phantom of the Opera" and original songs to classical works by Bach and Handel have brought him worldwide attention in the classical world, back home with the younger crowd, he’s become a radio star with timely tunes like this one:

"Protect the world, little boy/

There are things that should not be seen/

Protect the world, little boy/

If you see you’ll stop to be/

Hero of the world, little boy/

With the smile of angels,

Protect the world, little boy/

Because we already haven’t succeeded."

"Neshama: Stories of the Soul" with David D’or and the Kesehet Chaim Dance Ensemble, Feb. 21, 8:30 p.m. ICC, L.A. Scottish Rite Auditorium, 4357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. For tickets, visit or call (818) 986-7332.


Avi Davis is president of Israel Development Group, a business consultancy, in Beverly Hills. He and his family own a home in Safed, Israel. Senior columnist Marlene Adler Marks will return July 3.









With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

A Nation Like Any Other

By Avi Davis

The sight of Israeli Minister of Tourism Moshe Katzav being kissed by Israeli singer and Eurovision song contest winner Dana International must have made someone, somewhere blush. But you wouldn’t have known it by reading any of the Israeli papers last week. With the kind of glee that is only reserved in the Holy Land for the smashing of idols, Israeli editorialists pounced on Dana’s victory as further proof that Israel, having produced not just a Eurovision contest winner, but a transsexual one, has finally arrived as a nation among nations. So finally, we have the good word from Israel: Androgyny is in. Ethnocentricism (read Judaism with its intolerance for diversity and priggish emphasis on sexual purity), is most definitely out.

It’s not the first time an Israeli singer has stirred the pot of national pique. Last year, pop singer Noa, in a show of flagrant contempt for her own religion, sang “Ave Maria” to Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Of course, there are millions of Israelis who champion such acts of self -revilement. Many voices declare that the seeming struggle between internationalism and insularity is in reality a murky battle between tolerance (read secularism) on the one hand and repression (read religion) on the other.

Unfortunately, that translates as little more than an apology for the collapse of one of Zionism’s most fervent promises. For if there was ever a sense that Israel as a nation might have a mission in this world other than material gain or the right of personal expression, it seems to have dissolved in the secular world’s exultation of escape from stifling age-old commitments.

Yet such joy can only be tentative. Because when examined carefully, the hankering after international acceptance reflects no more than a pervasive sense of inferiority and absence of self-worth.

With this latest assault on Jewish values and tradition, things have gone just a little awry in the Jewish state.

Indeed, if he returned today, Joshua, the Jewish people’s first general, might be puzzled to discover that many of the Caananite practices he thought he had eradicated are making their slow but steady comeback.

And although child sacrifice may still not be on anyone’s agenda, there is an eerie sense that in the unceasing effort by Israeli secular society to strip all religious influence from their lives, the moral imperatives that have served us faithfully for so many centuries are being discarded.

It should not have been like this. The early Zionist ideologues struggled with the moral character of the nation to be. Ahad Ha’am, one of the most spiritually inclined of them, declared that the Jewish state would be built on a foundation of Jewish values or it would perish.

Later, David Ben-Gurion made the famous statement that he longed for a normal state with normal problems. However, this expectation of normalcy was never conceived by Ben-Gurion to import the tawdry and banal from other nations at the expense of Jewish culture. Ben-Gurion’s profound respect for Torah and the ethical teachings of the prophets became for him a genuine ideal for the revitalization of his people. For Ben-Gurion, dyed in the wool secularist though he was, the term am segula (treasured nation) came to denote not so much the feat of land reclamation as a reassertion of the Jewish people’s role in the moral development of the world. In his own curious way, Ben-Gurion’s ideas were very much in tune with the vision of the prophets.

Sadly, despite some remarkable acts of charity as a nation (offering refuge to fleeing Vietnamese and providing agricultural aid to drought stricken African nations are just two examples that spring to mind), that’s not the way things have turned out. Everyday life in Israel is beset with acts of dissoluteness and discourtesy. Israelis are often uncouth and vulgar. Rudeness, in stores and on the roads, is a way of life. In Tel Aviv, Jewish prostitution has become a very serious problem; an underground Israeli cartel now works in partnership with Palestinian thieves masterminding a pandemic of car thefts in the major cities. From male strippers in the living rooms of Tel Aviv to the notoriously unpleasant business practices of Israeli entrepreneurs, both in Israel and outside of it, Israelis have earned for themselves the unhappy sobriquet of prickly boors for whom ethics are no more than the doormat you use to clean your boots when you enter a house.

It is of course unfair to label all Israelis as degenerates or even lay the blame for every moral infraction at the feet of the secular. The Orthodox (courtesy of Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein) and ultra-Orthodox have done little to assuage the prevailing view that they are self-righteous bigots who would bleed the state rather than give to it.

But the tragedy remains that for the secular, self-abasement has become the language of dissent and a weapon of revenge.

All of this just to be a nation like any other. You have to wonder if the ghetto was a happier place.

Whatever the answer, it was the sudden superstar elevation of the transsexual Dana International that provided the final confirmation that there is a price to be paid for normalcy and that price is the squandering of a profound moral heritage. To many of us, the singer’s victory became meaningless when her status as Israel’s first transsexual singer was given more prominence than her actual song.

In truth, Dana International is perhaps a victim of all the hype that surrounds her and her painful journey deserves more our sympathy than our scorn. Yet her personal struggles set the State of Israel’s in sharper relief. Is it, after all, truly unrealistic to expect
Israel, a country composed largely of secular Jews, to subscribe to traditional Jewish codes of ethics and behavior? I don’t think so. Does it mean that all secular Israelis need to become religious? Not at all. But the Israeli education system can certainly provide guidance by accepting as a principle that being an Israeli carries with it responsibility and instituting compulsory instruction in
musar (ethics) that would ultimately lead to strengthening the nation’s moral purpose and an improvement in everyday life.

In the meantime, all normalcy advocates can certainly take heart. In normalcy, they will find a fertile ground for the flourishing of tolerance and maybe even the political framework for a future State of Canaan.