The top 10 Jewish cultural moments of 2018

From Netta Barzilai to Gal Gadot, Sacha Baron Cohen, Quentin Tarantino, ‘Fauda’ and more, the past 12 months have been chock-full of buzzworthy moments.

NETTA ATTENDS the news conference after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal. (photo credit: PEDRO NUNES/REUTERS)
NETTA ATTENDS the news conference after winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 in Lisbon, Portugal.
(photo credit: PEDRO NUNES/REUTERS)
1. Israel wins Eurovision
Love it or hate it, you probably can’t get it out of your head. And Netta Barzilai’s “Toy” was more than just a radio hit this year. It handed Israel a win at the Eurovision Song Contest in May, and brought next year’s competition home for the first time in 20 years.
Barzilai’s win in Lisbon with her anthem of female empowerment was an iconic moment for Israel, and millions around the world watched as she accepted the famous glass microphone.
“Thank you so much for choosing difference; thank you so much for accepting differences between us,” she said on stage. “I love my country!”
The 2019 competition in Tel Aviv, which is now just five months away, will be an unparalleled opportunity for the country to show off its cultural and tourist bona fides for millions around the globe.
2. Mossad operations hit the silver screen
The secretive operations of Israeli forces overseas have always made for dynamic storytelling. And in 2018 those stories took Hollywood by storm. In August, Operation Finale hit film screens around the world, bringing a great deal of buzz and decidedly mixed reviews.
Starring Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley, Golden Globe-winner Oscar Isaac and a slate of impressive performers, the film followed the secret operation to track down and kidnap Adolf Eichmann and bring him to Israel for trial.
The 1976 Operation Thunderbolt – to rescue Israeli hostages in Entebbe – also got a Hollywood remake this year when the film 7 Days in Entebbe, starring Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl, was released in March. And Netflix got a piece of the Mossad action as well, releasing The Angel – about the Egyptian spy Ashraf Marwan, who worked with Israel – in September.
Next year, the long-awaited Red Sea Diving Resort – starring Chris Evans – should hit theaters. That film focuses on the secret Mossad operation to rescue Ethiopian Jewry. And Sacha Baron Cohen is slated to appear in a Netflix miniseries about the famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen, titled simply The Spy.
3. Gal Gadot continues to conquer
At the start of 2018, Gal Gadot was already a household name. But over the past 12 months the Israeli actress’s fame has only continued its meteoric rise. She just wrapped up filming for the sequel to Wonder Woman, which won’t be released until 2020.
But this year Gadot had her first role in an animated feature, with Ralph Breaks the Internet, had a cameo on The Simpsons, appeared in a Maroon 5 music video and was the focus of an entire category on Jeopardy!
She has also signed up for a whole list of new projects. Among other undertakings, she has a starring role in the art heist thriller Red Notice with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, was cast as Hedy Lamarr in a Showtime series, and is producing a film about Fidel Castro and his relationship with an American journalist.
Is there anything she can’t do?
4. The hijinks of Sacha Baron Cohen
From Brüno to Borat to Ali G, Sacha Baron Cohen has inhabited a wide range of wacky characters over his long career. But none quite amused, perturbed and fascinated Israelis as much as the “Mossad” operative “Erran Morad” on his Showtime series Who Is America?
Baron Cohen played Morad, a swashbuckling, swaggering amorphous Israeli tough guy who humiliated a series of public officials over the seven episodes of his show, including former vice president Dick Cheney, disgraced Senate candidate Roy Moore and several US congressmen.
For seven weeks over the summer, the political world and the entertainment industry alike were lit up by the outlandish and inconceivable moments on the show.
5. Bagel emoji sparks outcry, revamp
There were few emojis as talked about and hotly debated in 2018 as the bagel emoji. Yes, the bagel emoji. In October, Apple revealed its version of the cartoon icon, and the reaction was swift and merciless. Think pieces were written, hands were wrung and tweets were fired off about the emoji’s unappealing appearance. Dozens of headlines declared the emoji an offense to bagels around the world.
And, clearly not facing any other pressing concerns, Apple reacted. Within a few weeks, it released a new, improved version of the emoji, this time with more texture and a generous schmear of cream cheese inside.
Now, where is that matzah emoji? 
6. BDS vs celebrities
The year 2018 kicked off just a few days after Lorde generated hundreds of headlines when she canceled a concert slated for Tel Aviv after an extensive online campaign from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. As the year marched on, the movement chalked up a whole lot of losses and a few wins.
In August, Lana Del Rey canceled a slated show at a festival in Israel, affirming that she didn’t believe in boycotting but was unable to schedule a parallel show in the Palestinian territories and therefore would not come.
But over the past 12 months – despite Roger Waters’s many temper tantrums – artists including Maluma, Enrique Iglesias, Alanis Morissette, Clean Bandit, Don McLean, the Backstreet Boys, Ozzy Osbourne, Ziggy Marley, Jason Derulo and Jethro Tull played concerts in Israel.
Comedians Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Carr, Jim Jefferies, Jeff Ross and Eric Andre all performed stand-up for Israeli audiences as well.
While the 2019 summer concert lineup is many months away, Bon Jovi has already confirmed a show in July, and many others are sure to follow suit.
7. Roseanne melts down, vows to become Israeli prime minister
One of the most buzzed about cultural moments in the United States this year was the comeback of the popular sitcom Roseanne, followed by its star’s online meltdown and subsequent firing.
Roseanne Barr, the Jewish creator and star of the original show, was fired in May for a racist social media rant, and continued to drum up headlines throughout the year with her outlandish behavior and bizarre statements. Barr was ranked as the 10th most googled actor in the world over the past year.
At the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in April, Barr said she would one day move to Israel and run for prime minister. And after she was fired from the show, she swore that she would move to the Holy Land when the season made without her premiered (she didn’t). But in January, Barr is slated to address the Knesset. Will she finally be announcing her candidacy for the April election?
8. Natalie Portman pisses off Israelis
It’s hard for celebrities to say anything at all about Israel without igniting some sort of debate. And earlier this year, Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman set off a firestorm of controversy when she accepted and then backed out of the pro-Israel Genesis Prize.
Portman – who has been critical of the Israeli government in the past – originally welcomed the $1 million prize. But later, in April, she said she would not be traveling to Jerusalem to accept the prize as originally intended, as she did not want to appear alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Portman’s decision led to harsh condemnation from many Israeli officials, the most extreme of whom clamored to rescind her citizenship.
While the nuance of Portman’s decision was lost on many, it also sparked a series of conversations about American Jewry and its connection to Israel.
9. Israeli TV continues to conquer the globe
Israel’s biggest export may be cut diamonds, but television can’t be too far behind. Over the course of 2018, Israeli programs continued to gain international acclaim, awards, global rights bidding wars and Hollywood adaptations.
Fauda, easily Israel’s best-known show, continued its buzz with a second season on Netflix. The Keshet series When Heroes Fly was snapped up by Netflix, and will hit the streaming platform in early 2019 in the original Hebrew. The show – which took home the top prize at the international Canneseries festival in France – is also slated for an English-language adaptation for American audiences.
The Keshet show Lihiyot Ita (Beauty and the Baker), which was bought by Amazon Prime, is also slated for a US adaptation on the ABC network. CBS is planning to adapt the HOT show Uri and Ella for its audience, as well as the Yes series Ta’agad, in a show tentatively titled “68 Whiskey.”
HBO also loves Israeli formats. The network announced this year it will be remaking the HOT series Nevelot (starring Richard Gere) as well as the HOT show Euphoria.
The Yes series On the Spectrum took home the top prize at the Series Mania festival this year, while the Reshet comedy Nevsu brought Israel a rare win at the International Emmy Awards last month.
Keep glued to your screens in 2019.
10. Starring: Israel
Most Jerusalem Post readers are well aware that Israel is a great travel destination – between the food, the weather, the beaches and the many historical sites. And in 2018 a whole host of celebrity visitors touched down in Tel Aviv for both business and pleasure.
Gerard Butler came twice this year – once for vacation and a second time for the premiere of his film Hunter Killer. Quentin Tarantino visited near the end of the year with his new Israeli bride, Daniella Pick. Sex and the City star Chris Noth came to Israel to film an episode of the Yehuda Levi series Very Important Person. Now-newlyweds Joshua Kushner and supermodel Karlie Kloss took in the sights back in April, and Gordon Ramsay combined work and play during a September visit. Morgan Freeman visited Israel for filming in November, and Mayim Bialik celebrated her son’s bar mitzvah in Israel over the summer. Jean-Claude Van Damme came on a hi-tech delegation, while Katherine McPhee and David Foster toured the sites of Jerusalem. Supermodel Kate Upton spent time in the Israeli sun, while actor B.J. Novak dined at both McDonald’s and Jerusalem eatery Crave during his April visit.
Mario Lopez walked in the footsteps of Jesus, while Liev Schreiber gave a masterclass on acting at Tel Aviv University.
Who will arrive on these fair shores in 2019? In March, Kim Kardashian West is slated to film a campaign in Israel for eyeglass brand Carolina Lemke – her second trip to the Holy Land. And she’s almost certain to be in good company among celebrity visitors next year.