In the midst of a very difficult period for both the State of Israel and Jews around the world there is a bright light shining from Zion in the form of Eden Alene, Israeli finalist in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest in the Netherlands. After qualifying for the final, with her unbelievable five-octave vocal range, she proudly stood waiving our national flag with a beaming smile on her face and emotionally declared,
I’m so happy for my country because we deserve it, because we have been through so much and I have been through so much, so I’m so happy…I am happy to bring some pride to Israel, and to stand on the world’s largest stage with an Israeli flag…To have Israel on the world map in the most positive way possible and for that I am grateful and proud.
Eden, 21, was born to Ethiopian-Israeli parents in Jerusalem. She was raised by her single mother and after setting a precedent by winning both of Israel’s prime-time television talent shows, “X-Factor” and “Rising Star,” she completed her mandatory IDF service in the military band, and she sang at the Independence Day torch lighting ceremony.
Eden is now representing our country in the Eurovision Song Contest finals. This indeed is an, “only in Israel” moment. Eden’s background is also a pretty common one in Israel. As Eitan Chayat notes,
Here is a child of immigrants, Jewish parents for whom freedoms were restricted in their birth country of Ethiopia, embraced by society at large, nurtured to learn and encouraged to develop her talents. At Eurovision, which delights in outlandish costuming, hair and makeup, she wears a veritable throne atop her head, proudly, because in Israel it doesn’t matter what you look or dress like; It doesn’t matter where you come from; It doesn’t matter your sexual orientation; your political views; your gender or ethnicity. It’s one of the most noble facets of Israeli democracy and it’s what makes our society great.
Eden is a patriotic Israeli and proud Zionist. She represents the “yearning for Zion” that was such an important part of the Ethiopian Jewish tradition. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews died trying to get to Jerusalem and Eden paid tribute to them at a moving memorial ceremony at Mt. Herzl. Meskie Shibry Sivan, an Ethiopian Jew who arrived in Israel on “Operation Moses,” a dramatic emergency airlift in 1984 which brought 8 000 Jews to Israel, recalled,
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to immigrate to Israel. However, we had not always known that the State of Israel even existed. Just the opposite, we used to think that we were the only Jews in the world, and observed our tradition very closely. Our grandparents told us tales about the Land of Israel whenever they could, making us curious about that land and yearn for it.
As remarkable and happy as the airlifts were, many Ethiopian Jews came without the emotional, social, cultural, financial and linguistic skills necessary for an easy absorption. It is important to acknowledge that with all of Israel’s incredible successes in many fields since its creation, there are issues that Israel is grappling with as it continues to stride in the 21st century. The problems that the Jewish State faces include topics as far ranging as: security, religion, society, environment, how to harmoniously co-exist with a minority population and immigrant absorption. Ethiopian immigrants have especially felt the last issue, immigrant absorption.
After the dramatic rescue from certain death by Israel, which was a fine example of Zionism in action, many Ethiopian Jews still feel marginalized in society. The ancient community has arrived home and started its last, but no less difficult journey – absorption. Yityish (Titi) Aynaw, Israel’s first Ethiopian born Miss Israel (2013) stated that,
Martin Luther King fought for justice and equality, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren’t always represented in the media. Israel is a multicultural state. We’re diverse and we come from different countries, so we need to show that outwardly.
The joyful scenes we witnessed in Holland after Eden’s qualification to the finals remind us that it is a privilege to live in the era of a Jewish State which, with all of it challenges, is the actualization of that age old Jewish dream expressed in our liturgy of the “ingathering of exiles” from the four corners of the earth. We live in an age of miracles and wonders, where the hope of two thousand years, “to be a free people in our land” (Hatikvah), has indeed become a reality. We have the wonderful Eden to represent us on the world stage as an illustration of that very fact. Despite not winning the overall competition, Eden Alene is Israel’s Eurovision hero!