I’ve never experienced such an abrupt shift in emotion as I did tonight, at the Kiana Ledé concert in London.
I arrived after the opening act, eager to find the best vantage point in the theatre, and found myself standing next to a security guard who would end up having a profound impact on my night. Sam* the security guard was a friendly, affable man, who made conversation with the concert-goers around him while waiting for the show to begin. After asking a woman her name (Sarah), he discussed its biblical origins and asked if the woman was Jewish. She was not, but Sam proceeded to explain his Jewish affiliation and history of practicing Jewish traditions back to his childhood in Nigeria. Excited by this revelation, I turned to Sam and told him that I was Jewish, which formed the beginnings of an unexpectedly heartwarming connection. We talked about Judaism, and the conversation quickly turned to the current situation in Israel. Without hesitation, Sam openly declared his support for Israel, his horror at the atrocities of October 7, and his infuriation at the world’s response. He could not understand why the world was ignoring the brutal massacre of 1400 innocent Jews and delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend itself in response. It became clear that Sam had conducted extensive research into the history of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He understood the previous wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973, and Israel’s numerous attempts to forge peace with Palestine. I thanked Sam profusely – not only for sharing his balanced opinions with me, but for adopting them in the first place.
Eventually the show began, and I felt grateful that I had serendipitously encountered a stranger who shared my beliefs. This happiness was only heightened when Kiana Ledé – an extremely talented artist of whom I had been a fan for several years – established herself onstage as a consummate performer. From the first song, she showcased her flawless vocals, and I was excited to be enjoying her talent live. She was relatable in her vulnerability, empowered in her femininity, and endearing in her enthusiasm for her fans. I was quickly singing along to each song, and Sam witnessed my joy: “you’re really enjoying yourself, aren’t you?”, he commented. I absolutely was.
However, things quickly took a turn. During one of the interludes between songs, when Kiana was interacting with the crowd, one fan threw something on stage into her hands. It was a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan: “Free Palestine”. My stomach dropped and I turned to Sam in shock. Kiana lifted up the shirt and presented it proudly to the crowd, to rapturous cheers and applause. Her expression was one of pride and appreciation. She began to lead the crowd in the infamous, dreaded chant: “from the river to the sea/Palestine will be free”, which was echoed by the entire audience at full volume. I turned again to face Sam and he shook his head in disappointment. “It’s not her fault,” he said. “She was put in a terrible position by the crowd.” His compassion for her was surprising, and contrasted the sadness I was experiencing. I felt blindsided by the unexpected experience of feeling attacked, unsupported and misunderstood in a setting that had just moments ago felt so unifying and uplifting. I instantly felt alienated from the 1400 other concertgoers in the theatre, a secret outsider with no voice. And I was disappointed with an artist whom I had supported for so long, who suddenly did not have my back in return.
Kiana then displayed another symbolic garment on stage; a kaffiyeh (a headdress typically worn by Arab men). She proceeded to wear the garment around her shoulders for the remainder of the concert in a show of solidarity for the Palestinian cause. Sam turned to me and commented on the ironic contrast between the symbolic garb she now donned and the freedom she enjoyed to display her body proudly while wearing it; a right that would be denied by Hamas and its militants. From that moment on, I was no longer able to enjoy the performance – I could not clap for Kiana’s stellar vocals, could not sing and dance along with her hits, and could not cheer loudly when she recounted lessons from her previous relationship experiences.
Instead, for the remainder of the show, Sam and I ignored the antics on stage and turned to each other to discuss the conflict. This level-headed, open-hearted security guard spoke to me about the annihilative agenda of Hamas vs. the desire of most Israelis to forge peace; the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields; the ongoing rockets being shot into Israel that receive no mention in mainstream media; and the existential threat to young Israeli soldiers who are risking their lives daily to protect their country and their people. He expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and the desire for their protection, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agreed. He questioned why Jews are so widely hated and recalled the atrocities of Nazi Germans in the not so distant past. I shared that my grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and that my family in Israel is fighting in the army and saving lives in hospitals. He commiserated that neither Britain nor any other nation would ever accept such a vicious threat to their existence without recourse.
Sam also shared a recent personal experience in which he had posted on Facebook in support of ‘peace between brothers’ (i.e., Jews and Muslims as the related descendants of Jacob and Esau), and was subsequently blocked from Facebook for two weeks. When I asked how the people in his life have responded to his pro-Israel beliefs, he said that some have supported him, while others have denounced him. But more widely, Sam – like many Jews – feels unsafe declaring his beliefs in public, especially after recently witnessing anti-Israel antagonism at a London bus stop; “I’m telling you – if we revealed ourselves, we would be lynched”.
And yet, at the same time, Sam also encouraged me to continue enjoying the concert. We talked about the lack of understanding that Kiana, along with most of the audience, likely possessed regarding the conflict. But while I voiced my frustration at these individuals supporting a cause without the necessary accompanying knowledge, he chose to see their ignorance from a compassionate viewpoint. “If you didn’t know the history of Israel and the agenda of Hamas,” he said, “you would feel so much pressure to join the majority opinion.” What Sam humbly failed to acknowledge was that he had made the effort to research the history of Israel, and therefore proved the ability of each and every member of the crowd to do the same if they so pleased.
Instead, Sam expressed his own disdain for the audience’s selective endorsement of anti-Israel sentiments. He cited the historic mistreatment of the Black community in England, who “built this city” of London, and the neo-colonialism still ongoing in British government. “They chant this phrase in support of Palestine, as if they’ve never done anything wrong themselves.”
Soon afterwards, the concert ended – much to my relief. Sam shook my hand and encouraged me to stay strong. I thanked him profusely for his support; “if it weren’t for you, I would have walked right out,” I told him. On the journey home, I began reflecting on the significance of the entire experience. What can I take away from it all – a loss of faith in an artist I admire, and the feeling of alienation from my peers for my marginalized beliefs?
What I choose to take away instead is gratitude for the support of one security guard who, in his individual pursuit of the truth, has restored my faith in the ability of the collective to do the same. I am grateful to Sam for redeeming this experience and making me feel like I had an ally, when Jews worldwide are feeling more shunned and isolated than ever. Hopefully, one day, others will follow his example and conduct their own research into the truth of the conflict. Until then, thank you Sam for healing a small part of my broken heart.