Bon Jovi in Israel: We will love you, always

Love is something that is hard to explain in words but easy to recognize when you feel it.

The media coverage of Bon Jovi in Israel underscores the paradox. While there were reports about the band defying BDS pressure to come and play in Israel and the subsequent successful, fun and charming performance, no report expressed the extraordinary exchange that took place.

Showing up

The first rule of love is to be present. Most international artists who perform in Israel come under BDS pressure to boycott our country. Some cave. Others do not. Bon Jovi started the performance with the declaration of long separated friends: “Good evening Tel Aviv. I told you we’d be back! It’s been four years and we’ve got a lot of catching up to do!”

It was the day after my birthday and there was no way I was going to miss this concert. As a teenager my friends had Bon Jovi posters on their walls (I had Aerosmith). A contrary streak in me made it hard to admit liking something everyone else did but now, and even more so after this concert, I can say that the band has earned their iconic status.

In Israel the venue for really big concerts is Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv. Finding parking isn’t easy and we had to walk a long distance to get to the venue entrance. Considering how common it is for bands to sound much worse live, I was amazed to hear that live Bon Jovi sounded almost as good as their studio recordings. This was a show to see!

Energy

All concerts are an exchange of energy between the performer(s) and the audience. Performers give of their talent, the audience gives their attention, admiration and adulation and that feeds the performer. Every performer has a different vibe, creating in the live concert an experience unique to that performer and audience.

There are generic expressions of connection between performer and audience. These can be adapted to wherever the performance is that night: “Hello Tel Aviv/London/Paris/New York,” “What a beautiful audience we have tonight!”

There was nothing generic about the connection in this case.

Thanks to Lenny I wasn’t going into the packed-like-sardines, far from the stage, grass area of Park Hayarkon. I was going to see this concert up close, from the Golden Ring!

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Somehow I managed to wiggle myself through the sea of people and suddenly I found myself in the third row of people circling the stage.

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The show time had been moved to an earlier hour than originally intended because Bon Jovi announced that they intended to play a full two hours. They ended up playing almost THREE. It was very obvious that they didn’t want to leave the stage and of course the audience didn’t want them to go either.

Its summer in Israel and Tel Aviv is hot, even at night. Jon somehow managed to run up and down the stage, dance and sing in a jacket without becoming disgustingly sweaty. And I was close enough to be able to see how much hair is blond and how much grey, where his face is smooth and where the crags are. Somehow the human imperfections that were visible in the man so close to me on the stage were not visible in his image on the huge screens behind him. Like Snow White blessed at birth, Jon Bon Jovi seems to have been granted a special relationship with cameras – while for average people cameras are cruel amplifiers of flaws, in him the cameras only seem to capture and augment his golden glow. Not many people actually seem to glow but he does – and it’s not just a matter of good looks, it’s a matter of genuine charm expressed naturally, of care and concern for other people.

Throughout the show Jon was in a dialogue with the audience and with the band. He asked the audience to scream for different band members, so that they too would receive energy from the audience. When one of the other performers played their instrument particularly well he applauded them. When the audience washed him in waves of love he put his hand on his heart, as if to say how he lucky felt to be so cherished.

Bringing a woman on stage is a common handsome rock star performer’s trick (which also happened during the show) but Jon also did something much less common – he came off the stage and walked into the audience. I was two people too far away to shake hands (sadly) however many others reached out to touch, embrace and smile eye to eye. It seemed he wanted to know us, not as an audience mass but as individuals.

Content of character

Love is seeing someone and accepting them as they truly are. In Israel we often feel very alone. Rather than seeing our true character we are maligned, our actions twisted and presented as something they are not. From Bon Jovi we received the love of being seen.

This kind of love is very rare. It is special on an individual, person to person basis. For the Nation of Israel, as a whole, it is something that we almost never experience –especially not publicly nor from someone so famous.

In the middle of the concert Jon rededicated “We Don’t Run” to our People.

“How are we doing so far? Ok? When we were here last, in 2015 we were talking about a record called Burning Bridges and, uh, talked about this song. This is called ‘We Don’t Run’ and we played it here and I dedicated it to the incredible People of Israel, for their strength, for their love and for my love for them. This one is called ‘We Don’t Run’.”

“We don’t run
I’m standing my ground
We don’t run
And we don’t back down
There’s fire in the sky
There’s thunder on the mountains
Bless each tear and this dirt I was born in
We don’t run”

Can you think of any song that more eloquently expresses the Israeli experience and attitude?! There is something deeply moving about being seen and understood, particularly when as a People we are so misunderstood.

After that the songs “It’s My Life” and “Living On A Prayer” also seemed to have added poignancy.

And when the band finally left the stage, there was sudden silence. Not one of the rambunctious, impatient Israelis surrounding me, moved. Something magical had been cut off and everyone seemed in a daze that it was over. It had been many minutes since the band left the stage. I was sure they were already on the way back to their hotel. Someone broke the spell by beginning the chant: “Always! Always!” Then the rest of the crowd joined in. They wanted the band back and they wanted to hear Bon Jovi sing about eternal love, no matter what.

And that’s exactly what happened.


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