The Eurovision is one of the largest events in the world. Larger than the Super Bowl, the Eurovision brings together 200 million viewers every year. The Olympics and the World Cup are the only events that have more viewers.
Bottom line is – even if you have never heard of the Eurovision, it’s HUGE.
Last year Israel’s Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision, bringing this year’s competition to Israel. Like the Facebook relationship status “it’s complicated,” there were many reason it was very problematic to bring the Eurovision to Israel.
And yet, despite numerous, enormous challenges, the Eurovision was a phenomenal success. Here are 3 of the major reasons why:
1. Israelis are excellent hosts
We love a good party and fun-loving guests from abroad are always welcome. Many Israelis (myself included) who are not Eurovision fans, got excited by the idea of bringing one of the largest parties in the world to our country.
Normally the contest is held in the host-nation’s capital however Jerusalem was a problem, not just because of BDSers who objected to this recognition of our eternal capital but also because of religious Jews who were deeply disturbed by the idea of breaking the Sabbath on a nationwide scale, with the approval of the Israeli government (Eurovision rules dictate that the final is held on a Saturday and the dress rehearsal for the final is on Friday). “Remember the Shabbat and keep it holy” is fourth out of the 10 Commandments and while individuals are responsible for their own choices, a national choice of this type is not a trivial decision. Tel Aviv, Israel’s New York, was happy to be the compromise. The city is known for its festivities during Pride month and is used to holding events that don’t adhere to religious norms. Israel was ready to party, in a place and manner appropriate for the people who wanted to attend, without disturbing too much other parts of our population!
When we learned that many fans were reluctant to come due to the high prices of tickets and lodging individuals initiated a movement to host guests in their homes, free of charge. We wanted people to come, feel at home and celebrate.
Israel can be confusing. Signs don’t always have English on them (other times there is English but the instructions aren’t clear). To minimize difficulties for tourists, the city of Tel Aviv recruited and trained volunteers who could offer friendly guidance, answer questions and provide support in different languages. The more stories that came out of individuals taking advantage of naive tourists, the more people stepped up to show the kind, friendly and generous side of our country.
2. Israelis are unstoppable
One week before the Eurovision, after contestants had begun to arrive and were busy rehearsing for the event, terrorists from Gaza bombarded southern Israel with 600 missiles. Not one missile. Not 10 or even 100. SIX HUNDRED.
What would your country do if it was hit by one missile?!
After the horrific Bataclan terror attack in 2015 the French government instituted a state of emergency for three months. Neighboring Belgium imposed a security lock-down on Brussels from 21 November to 25 November, including the closure of shops, schools, public transportation and advising people to not congregate publicly. How do you think France or Belgium would have responded to a massive missile bombardment?
Israel decided that if it is necessary to go to war, we can always do that later. The weeks following that attack were full with Israel’s Memorial Day for IDF soldiers and victims of terror, Independence Day and then, the next week, the Eurovision. The terrorists were not going to ruin our fun, we can go to war after our guests go back home.
This too was not an easy decision. When you have citizens under attack, terrified children, homes and businesses ruined and especially when there are casualties (four Israelis were killed, dozens injured) it is very, very difficult to set that aside, particularly for those who were under bombardment, huddling with their children in shelters.
Israel didn’t go into lock-down. Celebrations were not cancelled. On the contrary, Israel put on the most spectacular Eurovision ever. Check out the intro to the show here:
3. Dare to Dream
200 million people saw Israel at her best. Beautiful video “postcards” of Israel were created as introductions for each of the contestants. Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park was turned into a Eurovision village with giant screens so people could experience the show together, even if they couldn’t afford to buy the tickets.
I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the dress rehearsal for the final.
The rehearsal is exactly the same as the final and serves as backup footage, in case there is a problem in the broadcast of the final. The dress rehearsal is the event where the judges give their points for each performance (the final is opened for public voting and the results are a combination of the scores on both nights).
The production was mind-blowingly fabulous. It was like the opening of the Olympics but in a cozy atmosphere that made everyone a part of the show. History of the Eurovision and Israel’s part in the contest were seamlessly woven together with cosmopolitan showmanship and touches of the Israeli story – our diverse people, our land, language and even a touch of the journey of Jews from Ethiopia returning to Zion.
Ilanit, the first Israeli to participate in the Eurovision, sang the song she performed in 1973.
Gali Atari won the Eurovision in 1979, when it was held in Jerusalem, after Israel had won the year before. It was very moving to see her, in 2019 standing on the stage with other Eurovision winners and together, along with an audience full of non-Jewish foreigners, sing the same song – Hallelujah.
This year, Israel’s contestant Kobi Marimi was not expected to do well. The song chosen for him was not well received but when he took the stage the most Israeli of emotions overwhelmed everything else.
To the Israelis in the crowd liking the song no longer matters. He was ours and the whole country was focused on him. The crowd who had previously bounced and clapped to other songs was suddenly full of people on their feet chanting his name: “Kobi! Kobi! Kobi!”
We were there for him and he was there for us. He poured his heart into the song and it didn’t matter at all that he wasn’t going to win. What mattered was that everyone saw a night that was like no other.
Dare to Dream, this year’s Eurovision slogan, is just another way (albeit less powerful) to express the guiding principle of Israel, the most fundamental of Zionist ideas: “If you can dream it, you can make it real.”
France’s contestant Bilal Hassani, a gay Muslim man, danced and sang about self-actualization, no matter what others think of you or hurdles need to be overcome. Other songs had the same message.
The Eurovision itself is about inclusivity, tolerance, diversity and being who you dream to be.
Did the Europeans recognize the irony? Could they?
The descendants of those who tried to exterminate our grandparents came to our home, to perform on our stage, to inspire their audience with the message that is the essence of who we are.