Delight in Diversity

Israel is a country of minorities and this will show again on stage at 2020 Eurovision

By David E. Kaplan

Following her win in Hakokhav Haba (The Next Star) aired on Israel’s Channel 12 with the  Beyoncé’s mega-hit Halo, 19-year-old Eden Alene will be the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent to represent the state of Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest – watched by over 180 million –  when she takes to the stage this May in Rotterdam.

Hands Up. Victory for Eden Alene, Israel’s 2020 Eurovision representative and winner of the reality show “The Next Star” during the final in Neve Ilan studio near Jerusalem on February 4, 2020. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

There have been other Israeli FIRSTS for minorities in the Eurovision Song Competition. In 2009, singer Mira Awad, an Arab represented Israel together with Jewish singer Achinoam Nini with their entry that had a message – There must be another way.  The lyrics did not reveal what that “other way” should be, but merely representing their country together – on stage – was already indicating their “way”.

Israel won its first Eurovision way back in 1978 with Izhar Cohen, the first entry of an Israeli of Yemenite descent, and in 1998, Dana International, who won the coveted competition with “Diva”. Dana is a transgender singer who identifies as female.

Diversity is ingrained in Israel’s DNA as sometimes frustratingly exposed in Israeli elections where there are 17 parties represented in the Knesset and another 30 parties contesting to join them.

Is it any wonder there were no results in the two elections in 2019 and the Israeli electorate is going back to the polls for a third election soon dreading that there might be a fourth!

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The Face Of Israel. To represent her country at the 2020 Eurovision Song Competition, Eden Alene.

On becoming the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent chosen to represent the country at Eurovision, Eden told Channel 12’s Nadav Bornstein following her victory, that “This is my country, and it is amazing that an Ethiopian will represent the country for the first time.”

Alene was raised in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood by a single mother who immigrated from Ethiopia, and later moved with her family to Kiryat Gat. Said her mother Zehava, “Eden represents pride for all Ethiopians. Everyone is behind her, supporting her and loving her.”

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Mother And Daughter. An emotional Eden Alene hugs her mother Zehava, after she was announced the winner of ‘HaKochav Haba,’ making her Israel’s representative to the 2020 Eurovision (Courtesy HaKochav Haba)

Road To Rotterdam

My poor mother, she had a hard time taking it in. She collapsed in my arms,” Alene said on the Chadshot Haboker (The Morning News) show.

It was all too evident onstage as Eden, surrounded by judges, presenters and other contestants, clutched a small Israeli flag under her arm while she wrapped her other arm around her mother and hugged her tight. Singing again as the winner that will take her to the 2020 Eurovision in Rotterdam, her perfect voice suddenly broke slightly, as she looked into her mother’s eyes.

It has clearly been a long road for this mother and daughter pair.

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Singing Her Heart Out. Eden Alene, winner of the 2020 “The Next Star to Eurovision.” Photo by Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90

On hearing the name Eden over and over again as the present pride of the Ethiopian community in Israel, I thought back to another Ethiopian young woman by the same first name – Eden – who I had interviewed some years ago as a 26 year-old-student at the IDC Disciplinary center Herzliya.

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Making Of A Star. Alene performing at Israel’s 70th Independence Day at Karmiel in 2018.

Eden Senai was one of the many in the mass ‘exodus’ of Ethiopian Jews rescued by Israel from Ethiopia as part of Operation Solomon. She arrived in Israel aged six in 1989 with her mother.

A diminutive child, Eden’s journey ‘out of Africa’ was almost entirely on her mother’s back. She relates a traumatic experience when they were robbed by brigands on route to the Sudan. “They started shooting and threatened to kill us, but my mother pleaded for our lives and somehow, they let us go.” Arriving in the Sudan, they fell under the protection of a rebel militia.

For four months while we waited for the trucks to fetch us, I was separated from my mother and the rest of the Jews. My mother was insistent; she felt that if the camp was attacked, at least I might survive.”

When the trucks finally arrived, “we climbed in and they covered us with straw in case we were stopped and searched. They drove us by night to the plane which brought us to Israel.” Arriving in Israel, “I was diagnosed as suffering with malaria and the doctors thought I had little chance of surviving.”

Eden survived!

The name Eden – in Hebrew עֵדֶן – is derived from the Biblical Garden of Eden, meaning ‘delight’ in the book of Genesis. Like the older Eden who is today in all probability a successful practicing lawyer, Eden Alene  today is a young lady with a future of music before her.  When she takes to the international stage  for the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam on May 16, Eden will have turned 20 only 9 nine days earlier!

With “delight”  being in the meaning of her name, Eden has been delighting listeners in public since “she was in nursery school,” says her mother and later, “at an elementary school talent show.” Today, Eden is a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces and is no novice to winning big competitions.  In 2018, she won Israel’s “X-Factor” reality TV show.

And while dikes hold water back in Holland, nothing holds Eden back as she heads for Rotterdam!





Feature Picture: Eden Alene (Photo – Ortal Dahan).

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