The winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, Netta Barzilai of Israel, performs during a dress rehearsal ahead of the first semi-final of 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel May 13, 2019. .
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
My first experience at a live concert was in 1957. I was present, appointed by the Emory Glee Club, for a piano concert by Arthur Rubinstein. Glee Club members could attend concerts for free if they agreed to usher. I had no idea who Rubinstein was and that he was Jewish.
My musical education down in the US deep South was minimal. I did hear him that night! I enjoyed it especially when his hands went up and down.
Now for serious business. On Monday, May 13, I was in the Eurovision Performance Building watching the dress rehearsal. Only a certain number of performers appeared, but I had received a Euro Magazine early Monday morning with names, country representing and pictures so I had no trouble identifying every performer. My prime purpose for being present was to feel the electricity of the Eurovision competition, 41 years after Izhar Cohen won in first year of our aliyah.
In marched the four Israeli host-moderators. I was impressed by Bar Refaeli’s shingle dress, sparkling with different colors as the light hit it. Lucy Ayoub was also quite pretty – a different shape in her dark dress, yet radiant in her own way.
What was fun for me was to watch the four fumbling. The two men hosts have appeared on TV so often that they had become townies for a four-decade Jerusalem boy like me. Since this was a rehearsal, they were entitled to “mess up” reciting their extensive “declarations” and planned jokes – humorous, of course. However, the director was not pleased, so he made them repeat their lines again and again. When I saw them on TV on the final night, I knew they worked hard and prepared well.
For this 80-year-old who had met Yaffa Yarkoni of blessed memory personally in a small club in Boston where she had a singing gig in early 1960s, I thought that I might get closer to Bar Refaeli to “see” her. I moved over near the aisle. Of course, she came by quickly not even a look my way. She is a star; I am just a “vatik” trying to expand my sensitivities.
I was really there to see Netta Barzilai in person.
I watched the Israeli song contest last year, which she won. I think that I watched the night of her victory in Lisbon. Like many people, I happen to turn often to a channel where she is singing “Toy.” The “Netta pride for Israel” has stuffed my head with her unusual procedures. I cannot point to the reason she won. All I know is that there is overflowing antisemitism out there in Europe, and this incredible Israeli woman triumphed against all the odds. On Monday I saw her emerge in a blue costume. I watched her sing and dance and I watched the audience – they were thrilled beyond belief. Barzilai made everyone feel good as she descended the stairs from the stage.
She paused to speak from her heart, “It was nice to win, but my greatest hope was to know Eurovision 2019 would be in Israel. Only a few nights more and it will be here. That is my biggest thrill.”
As I listened to her kind words, I focused my mind on her tiny apartment in Tel Aviv, recently shown on TV. She still shares the apartment with two other women. Her fame has not taken away her desire just to be a regular person. How she has swept into our lives – a larger and dearer symbol than all the politicians, sports heroes and tycoons.
Barzilai is for real. She brought Eurovision here – and pride and joy.
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