Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Sing a Song
Photo (c)Avinoam Samin
This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 18 May 2005
Tomorrow night, many Israelis will be tuning in to watch the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest (the finals will be held on Saturday night). Although I had never heard of this contest until I visited Israel, it has been going on since the mid-1950's. Each of the participating countries sends one representative (an individual or a group). Two past winners of the competition are well- known even outside of Europe: ABBA, who won with their famous song "Waterloo," and Celine Dion, who performed as a representative from Switzerland. Even Julio Iglesias (4th place in 1970) and Olivia Newton-John (4th place in 1974) competed in the ESC.
Israel first competed in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973. In the ensuing 32 years, we have won the competition three times, in 1978, 1979, and 1998. Not only was winning an honor and a joy for our country, but since the winner of the competition hosts it the following year, our victories also meant revenue from participants and tourists who attended the contest (note: in 1979 we waived our right to host the competition).
Over the years, we have sent individuals and groups, adults and even once a child (let's just say that that was not a rousing success), to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest. Each year, the song to be sung is played on the radio (over and over) and people enjoy debating its quality and chances for success. They also bicker over the selected performer, who has sometimes been chosen by a popular vote, sometimes by a committee.
This year, the people of Israel voted. A special television program featured each of the Israeli competitors performing their songs. We chose as our representative a lovely and talented young woman named Shiri Maimon. Of course, that doesn't mean there hasn't been any controversy. Originally Shiri was to perform her song in Hebrew. That was how she sang it in the TV special, which is what people based their votes on. Now, apparently aware that many of the other countries are sending singers who will perform in English, she has decided to sing the first half of the song in Hebrew, and the second half in English. Some feel she will have a better chance for success if more of the audience can understand the words to her song; others feel that singing in a language that is not her mother-tongue may weaken her performance. It will be interesting to see what happens.
This whole Eurovision process is like a microcosm of the Israeli approach to life. We love to analyze, criticize, and argue about practically anything - and the ESC is no exception. In May, when the time for the Eurovision Song Contest draws near, people call in to radio talk shows, write newspaper columns, and post blistering messages on Internet forums. Each person has his or her own opinion on every aspect of the competition. But be assured, come tomorrow night and the start of the competition, everyone will be rooting for our Shiri. They will cheer each time she is awarded the maximum number of points from each voting country. They will boo those countries who give her fewer points. And no matter whether she wins or loses, when it's over absolutely everyone will say, "I knew this would happen."