Ivri Lider in Washington, DC: On Wanting to Be Israeli


For those of you who live on another planet (or possibly not in Jewlandia in which case you are hereby pardoned,) Ivri Lider is a very popular Israeli musician.  Not only has he had more hits than Micahel Tyson, he has also publicly come out as gay and still remained successful and popular, which  is a tremendous accomplishment in the fickle world of showbusiness.

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Thanks to the kind generosity of 16th Street JCC in DC, I scored two tickets to go see Ivri Lider at 9:30 Club.   Tanya went as my date, because you can never have too many Russian girls at an Ivri Lider concert. Also, we were outnumbered by Israelis. How do you know there are Israelis at any given concert? When the flyers outside specifically state that the artists requests you don’t take any pictures or video and as soon as the lights go off, you hear the sound of 10 Sony D-120s turn on and snap away. It was comforting to be in the presence of so many people blatantly breaking laws and social boundaries and strangers talking loudly into my ear. I felt like my internship in Tel Aviv all over again.

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If you’ve read my Jewlicious post on Ivri, you’ll see the first two paragraphs regurgitated. Because I’m lazy.   What I really wanted to talk about here is the feeling I got when I went to concert.

Every day, I work, live, and play in America.  It’s hectic here, people are sometimes unfriendly, and the barista is under enormous pressure to get your order out in three seconds or be scolded.  America is a great place for opportunities, but cold, and at times, leaves you burnt out.   When you are at work,  your mind is constantly on deadlines, on brisk English, and on power lunches.

When you come to a concert for an Israeli artist,  something changes.  The mood softens, time slows down, and you see lots and lots of Israelis. And suddenly, you don’t feel like you’re in the United States anymore.  You feel like you’re on the Frishman beach, on a July night, and it’s sunset.  The music is far away, coming from a bar on the beach, and you are sitting in the sand with a hookah in one hand and a slice of watermelon in the other while techno pipes in from far away over the melting sun.  The tension fades away. People start talking in Hebrew and checking their cell phones, but it’s not a check for work email. A check to see that it’s 11:00 and it’s a summer night and their friends are just coming down to get the party started.

You are far away, floating on the Mediterranean, smelling the flowers, the salt by the tayelet, the hot, salty foods of the street vendors.  You are standing next to people who are a million miles away and a thousand times more relaxed, and you suddenly feel shy to practice the Hebrew you’ve been dying to use since three summers ago.

You forget for a moment all the issues you had in Israel, and you just viscerally feel the connection that you established to Israel the first time you went.  It’s like the connection you have with your husband.  You can’t really define it.  It’s just always there, enveloping you, a source of strength.

Then, the concert ends, and you are back to reality.   You feel a distinct sense of homesickness that you always feel when you think of Israel even though you’ve never lived there longer than two months, and, at the same time, the pain of guilt.  You’re not Israeli, you didn’t serve in the Army.  How can you love and visit Israel but, for long periods of time, support it from afar? You’re a hypocrite, an armchair Zionist. You struggle with these thoughts every day.  How can you be proud of the fact that you don’t do anything physical for Israel? You are always embarrassed to talk to Israelis who ask you how you know Hebrew.  “Oh, I interned in Israel for two months,” seems equivalent to “Oh, I gave food to hungry Africans by clicking on a website button.” You remain undecided, just like you do every day.

But then Ivri starts singing Kos HaKhula, and, for a moment, you forget about your monumental struggle  and you are back in the music.

Apologies for the sentimental musing.  I ran fresh out of sarcasm.  Come tomorrow for some more, please.