A Eurovision bubble in Tel Aviv

Untouched by Gaza violence, preparations for the song contest next week continue full steam ahead.

May 7, 2019 23:54
2 minute read.
International media seated in the Eurovision press room at the Expo Tel Aviv on Monday.

International media seated in the Eurovision press room at the Expo Tel Aviv on Monday.. (photo credit: AMY SPIRO)

A sense of uneasy quiet settled on Israel on Monday morning, after two days of intense rocket fire that terrorized the South and jarred the nation. Residents of southern communities slowly returned to school and work, and Israelis loosened their grip on breaking news alerts.

But 80 km. north of the Gaza border, it was like nothing had ever happened.
At the site of the upcoming Eurovision in the Expo Tel Aviv conference center, rehearsals, preparation and media coverage were full speed ahead on Monday. Nine more countries took to the stage for the first time, followed by press conferences with the assembly of international media. And at Ben-Gurion Airport, the steady stream of arriving artists continued unabated.

“Here you don’t even know” about the flareup in violence, said Matt Friedrichs of the popular Eurovision blog ESCUnited. “You live in a bubble.”
Friedrichs, speaking to The Jerusalem Post at the Eurovision press center on Monday, said at least 90% of the conversations going on there are about the upcoming competition, and not the rocket attacks. “Occasionally it comes up, sometimes in the press conferences,” he said, “but just briefly.”

Friedrichs, who is attending his eighth Eurovision, said his time in Tel Aviv has been “really good so far... it’s been fairly smooth for the most part.” News about rockets and violence, he said, came to him from comments on his videos and from phone calls from family.

Eurovision rehearsals continued without interruption on Saturday and Sunday as rockets were launched by Hamas and the IDF struck Gaza. And on Monday morning, violence was barely an afterthought amidst the hustle and bustle of preparations for arguably the largest international event in Israel’s history.

And the dozens of international media and Eurovision superfans assembled in the press center at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds had one focus: the singing.

Photo of the lawn at the site of the upcoming Eurovision at the Expo Tel Aviv conference center. (Credit: Amy Spiro)

As each new artist headed on stage for the first time, many watched rapt on the huge screen in the press room, singing along to the songs and applauding the performances.

And at the press conferences for each contestant, the questions focused on the songs, the staging, and the personal lives of each singer. Switzerland’s Luca Hanna was asked about his past professions as an underwear model and brick layer. Moldova’s Anna Odobescu fielded a question about her famous parents-in-law.

Seated in the press center, I was approached by a French journalist who wanted to ask me a few questions. Not about rockets, or Gaza or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – but about who I thought would advance to the Eurovision grand finale on May 18.

While neither rockets nor Shabbat could halt the Eurovision rehearsals, one thing can: Remembrance Day. All the delegations will be given a free day on Wednesday, and the press center will be closed as Israel remembers its fallen. And then on Thursday – Independence Day – everyone will be back to work at the Expo Tel Aviv, and the busy schedule will continue on Friday and Saturday.

The Eurovision will officially kick off on Sunday evening, with an Orange Carpet event, and the first semi-final will be held next Tuesday night. For now, a tentative quiet has returned to Israeli skies. Will it hold?

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