Even if it’s only the sum of all the times I have watched it, this video is going viral. Watch it for yourself and I dare you not to want to watch it again. Here’s a link to an edited version of the original broadcast in Hebrew, with subtitles.
But the reasons it’s going viral are far more than just because this young woman has an incredible voice. We are accustomed to TV reality shows where regular people perform in front of judges to play out a dream to win a competition, if not to launch a career. We are accustomed to see videos like this going viral. That’s not new. Shows like this are a hit because we can live vicariously through the dreams of others, and even if we don’t have a beautiful voice, build up our own dreams. It’s also special to see someone who’s been given the gift of an incredible voice excel on stage, on national TV. It’s inspiring, it gives us hope, makes us happy.
As much as Israel is unique in so many ways, there are many ways in which Israel is just like every other country, like the vision of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl. That’s the case with the abundance of TV reality shows making their way to Israel, often with their own unique Israeli twist.
But this video and this experience are unique, even in a country like Israel that’s unique in so many ways. It’s the sum of many elements that makes it special, making national news at home and going viral abroad.
Some of the obvious reasons this is a hit include that the young woman, Eden, is young and pretty. But not just that. She’s charming and poised. She expresses sincere emotion and modesty. She exchanges fun banter with the judges.
When asked at the opening to tell the judges about herself, the first thing she says is, “I’m Ethiopian.” This receives a huge applause from the audience. She shows pride in her family history and ethnic origin despite being made to feel different as a child by people who are less tolerant. When asked after the performance for instance what she eats on a day to day basis, she says “injera,” an Ethiopian bread. Despite Israel having people who don’t celebrate Israel’s ethnic diversity, or are more intolerant (sadly another depiction of Herzl’s vision that Israel would be a nation like other nations), Eden celebrates her Ethiopian origin, and the audience celebrates that wildly.
Indeed, it’s a matter of great pride that since the 1970’s, Israel rescued and absorbed a little less than 100,000 black Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, marking the first time black Africans were brought out of Africa en mass TO freedom.
Eden also tells the judges that she likes bracelets and the special one to her (of dozens she is wearing) is the one with different religious symbols that she got performing in a mixed Arab-Jewish performance at Yale. This bracelet is the most meaningful she tells us because it celebrates coexistence, which is met again with great applause from the audience, affirming that ultimately that’s what Israelis want – peace and coexistence.
Standing backstage, Eden’s traditionally dressed Ethiopian mother expresses incredible emotion and gratitude to God (watch closely) that’s infectious. It gives chills, and even brings tears to the eye, to see a woman who raised Eden on her own (we learn that from the full video of the program here, albeit with no subtitles). And it’s clear from her accent that Eden’s mother was among the tens of thousands who fled Ethiopia, many walking for days or weeks to realize their own dream to return to Israel, and unfortunately during which many died. It’s likely that given her age, Eden’s mother was a girl or young woman and was rescued in the miraculous Operation Solomon in 1991, now realizing her dream and living in Jerusalem.
Yet there’s something else that’s related to this 1991 rescue that makes this all the more compelling and is depicted in Eden’s attire, albeit probably unintentionally. Operation Solomon was the historic secret Israeli military operation in May 1991 bringing 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours. 35 Israeli aircraft, including Air Force C-130 cargo planes and El Al Boeing 747 passenger planes were employed in this rescue. Because the operation was deemed truly lifesaving given the threats to Ethiopian Jews in Africa, uniquely most of those flights took place on Shabbat which would otherwise have been prohibited.
Given the mass movement of nearly 15,000 people in such a short time, one of the most interesting and vivid images from that time was the fact that many wore numbers on their foreheads to keep families together, and reunite them when they inevitably got separated amid the harried mass immigration. Looking carefully at Eden’s outfit, notice that she put the sticker bearing her contestant number on her cool hat rather than her shirt as others might.
Her mother may very well have worn a number on her own head as she finished her journey to realize her dream of living in Israel. Now, 26 years later, the number on Eden’s head depicted more than just her being a contestant in a reality show, striving for her dream on the road to the top. It’s a symbol, albeit unintended, of her own family’s journey and return to Israel as part of the prophetic ingathering of the exiles. Rather than being a lost child amid masses, she’s a found member of the family. And just like her mother, she’s made it.
In many ways Israel is like a big extended family. As such, Eden is one of us. Her joy and success are something we celebrate as if she were our own sister, our own daughter. Eden, we are proud of you and pray that all your dreams are realized.
And if you’re reading this Eden, I have an 18 year old son I’d like you to meet.