Wednesday, September 17, 2008
When it comes to emotional attachment to the Jewish State, previous generations may have had the Six Day War, or the Raid on Entebbe. If you came of age in the 1970’s you had the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, the annual continental battle of warbling tonsils that launched the juggernaut careers of bands such as ABBA, and… well, ABBA.
The tournament was must-see stuff across the country, despite the fact that it was perennially won by innocuous Scandinavian warblers and dastardly French lounge acts. But in 1978 all that changed when Israel’s entry Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta took to the cavernous stage in their glitzy kibbutz shirts with sneaking hint of chest hair. Since when has Israel been in Europe? The song, A-Ba-Ni-Bi gave us no chance to ask the question. It was all stabbing cut and thrust with tight horn work and orchestration adding a screaming urgency. The combo sang as if their lives depended upon it, even though the lyrics of the song were somewhat curiously about how children relate to love. When it became clear in the voting that Israel had won, Jordanian television cut their live broadcast and replaced it with a screenshot of spring flowers, telling their populace that the Belgian song had won the competition.
But I was in England. 8 years of age, and watching till the sweet, sweet end with everyone else in Europe. The performance was breathtaking. Israelis who could rock. I went to bed that night unable to sleep. My body still giddily thrilled by what I had seen, counting down the days till the next years competition which would now be held in Israel… for the first time the mighty Eurovison would be held outside of Europe.
And lo and behold, if Israel did not win that one too… with Gali Atari and Milk and Honey’s performance of Hallelujah, a song that built from a solo voice into a quartet’s crescendo. Replete with spangly bow ties and braces and formulaic shoeshine shuffle. A song purpose built to be played by bar mitzvah bands for years to come. Hallelujah has become the more famous song, entering the pantheon of popular Jewish sing-a-longs but A-Ba-Ni-Bi is forgotten masterpiece. A throbbing, soulful moment of Jewish triumph.