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Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.

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Israel at 60: `There is magic and there are hard days`
Filed under Judaism, Jewish history & culture, Opinion Editorials, Israel’s 60th – on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 – By: Silow-Carroll, Andrew

My family and I were living in Israel in 1998, when the country celebrated its 50th anniversary.
 
That same year, Israel had an entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, the wildly popular television pageant that combines elements of the Olympics and American Idol. Israel’s official entry was sung by Dana International, a sultry Cher look-alike with an interesting back story: Ms. International was a transsexual who underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1993.
 
Needless to say, Israel’s religious establishment was none too pleased that a transsexual — and one so flamboyant to boot — was representing Israel at the song showcase. Or should I say, they were even less pleased than usual by Israel’s selection.
 
Not only that, Dana International would sing a bouncy disco tune called “Diva,” which celebrated strong women throughout history. Not exactly “Hallelujah,” Israel’s winning 1979 entry.
 
Our Jerusalem neighbors tended to be staid, middle-class, and observant. Nonetheless, during the telecast from Birmingham, England, traffic came to a standstill outside our apartment. It was late by the time all 25 singers had performed, and we decided to go to bed and listen to the results on the radio. For the next hour, an announcer asked each country’s judges for their vote tallies.
 
Holland, Belgium, Italy…
 
It soon became apparent that Israel was in the lead, and a murmur began to build from the buildings facing the lot behind our apartment.
 
England, Denmark, Germany…
 
As each judge put Dana closer to the top, the murmur became a buzz, and then the buzz became a roar. Israel had won, and we and our neighbors went frankly nuts.
 
If the scene sounds familiar, it’s because it is exactly how elderly folks remember listening to the radio broadcast of the original United Nations vote that turned the idea of Israel into an international fact.
 
A half-century later, Israel had not only survived, but was strong enough, self-confident enough, diverse enough, and just a little bit crazy enough to send Dana International as its official representative, and win.
 
There’s a sequel to the story. A few weeks later I headed down to the German Colony to pick up my son at his religious elementary school. Kids at the nearby secular high school were celebrating the end of the semester, and the blaring music carried into the playground of the elementary school. I arrived just as “Diva” began to play – and damned if all the religious kids, knitted kipot askew and tzitzit flying, weren’t singing along.
 
A lot happened over the next 10 years — too much, to be honest. But I like to hold on to that moment, when a song united a factious country, and all of Israel — and guests like me — marveled at this strange and wonderful Jewish thing we had going.
 
“There is a woman who is larger than life,” sang Dana International. “There are senses that only she possesses / There is magic and there are hard days / And a stage that is all hers.”
 
The opinions and views articulated by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Israel e News.

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