The crowning of Rose Fostanes as X Factor Israel’s first ever winner could not fail to warm the heart of even the sternest talent show viewer. The 46 year-old Filipino caregiver, who arrived in Israel only six years ago after working in numerous Middle East countries, truly captured the Israeli imagination. A resident of the poor neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv, where she shares a tiny apartment with seven other foreign workers, Rose’s inspiring journey carer for a Tel Aviv resident to instant celebrity is emblematic of Israel’s ‘underdog’ obsession.
This sweet obsession manifests itself frequently, only recently Hagit Yaso emerged victorious in the ninth series of talent-search Kokhav Nolad (A Star is Born). Raised in Sderot, and daughter of Ethiopian immigrants who, only 30 years prior, had braved the desert for four months to immigrate to Israel, Yaso’s upbringing was far from easy. In the face of such adversity, and in a society in which many young Ethiopians feel disaffected, the young singer received an overwhelming 60% of the public vote in the strongly-contested finale.
Their singing ability is undisputed. Yet it is the manner in which viewers fell head over heels for these two women that demonstrates the beauty of this underdog phenomenon. Sweeping to victory on a wave of goodwill and optimism, Israeli society is quick to embrace those who have struggled in order to improve their fortunes.
Although many across the world side with the underdog, their repeated success in Israel has additional resonance and a simple explanation: the origins of the State of Israel and its people are one of adversity and struggle. It is a history of fighting to survive against all odds. A classic underdog story.
Take King David’s unlikely victory over the giant Goliath. Or when, just seventy years ago, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto held out for a month against the powerful German army. Or in the decades that followed, when the new born Jewish state managed to triumph in numerous conflicts where its continued existence looked highly doubtful.
Being the underdog has been a constant way of life for the people of Israel in recent, and not-so-recent times. Although Israel’s seemingly implausible victory in the Six Day War changed the world’s perception of the state, its own population has continued to reserve a special place in their hearts for those struggling to improve their lot.
Israel’s obsession, and it is certainly a healthy obsession, with the underdog is a reflection of the country’s collective memory – both religious and national. It is this obsession that, in recent years, has produced the heart-warming stories of Rose Fostanes and Hagit Yaso who should be an inspiration to all, no matter their background.
As this series of X Factor Israel comes to an end, Rose will surely enjoy her victory. At the same time, we can rest easy with the knowledge that it is only a matter of time until the next underdog of Israeli society is revealed and we can watch their inspiring story unfold.