My friend twisted my arm to make sure I was watching with bated breath, as she was. We watched in awe as he rode by, pedaling his shiny new bike, dreadlocks flying. I remember feeling ecstatic as I realized who it was. Israeli singer Idan Raichel was traveling down Ben Gurion St., signature head covering and all.
My friend and I gawked at him. But no one else did. Nobody cared.
He wasn’t the first of dozens of Israeli celebrities I’ve seen in the span of a year and he certainly won’t be the last. This isn’t America and even in NY or LA where star sightings are frequent, I don’t think most people have met or run into quite as many celebs on an occurring basis in such a short period of time.
I saw Eastern singer Sarit Hadad in concert in a small club about 20 minutes from home. On holidays and parties for the city’s 100th anniversary last year, when Tel Avivians gathered in the center of town, I saw musical performances (for free) by the likes of popular Israeli entertainers like Monica Sex, Barry Sakharof, Dana International, Balkan Beat Box, Miri Mesika, Keren Peles, and Tzvika Pik practically in my own backyard. (They played in the giant Rabin Square, which was 5 minutes from my apartment at the time.)
Oh, you think it stops there? Shlomi Saranga walked into the American Apparel near Dizengoff Center where I was shopping. Shalom Chanoch, one of the most famous Israeli singers today, idly sipped coffee, not 2 meters away from me in the same café.
Not 5 minutes later, I was walking behind a popular older actor from the well-known Israeli soap opera Our Song (HaShir Shelanu) as he sashayed in a well cut blazer down King George St.
Celebrities are just not a big to-do here. There’s no Paris Hilton pursing her lips for the cameras. No packed bus loads of screaming teenagers like there was for the Madonna concert that was a stop on the bus on my way home from work.
Why was it such a big deal when Bar Refaeli and boyfriend Leo DiCaprio visited the Western Wall? When Bar was here alone visiting family, no one bothered her as she danced up a storm at a packed club on Rothschild.
Some friends and I randomly met classic Israeli singer Boaz Sharabi and shared drinks with him in a sultry Tel Aviv bar. We acted like he was an old friend. Had it been Lady Gaga or Jennifer Lopez perhaps we all would have collapsed in our seats.
I always wondered why so-called “celebrities” in Israel (singers, actors, musicians, film stars) were never such a big deal in this small little country. And then I remember meeting this actor from the popular Israeli film Beaufort (nominated for an Oscar) at a local dance club on a Tuesday night. I went up to him and asked him what he thought of America. Turns out he’s never even been to New York (only LA, for the Academy Awards, no less.) He could barely speak English.
On the way home from the club, I asked an Israeli friend how it’s possible that an actor of so-called “high status” in Israel could never have even set foot in New York. It would have never happened to the Olsen twins or Lindsay Lohan who have probably made trips all over the world on more than one occasion. My friend told me it was because Israeli actors and celebrities are just not a big deal here. It’s because they don’t make even a quarter of the millions that Gal Gadot probably received for a bit part in the Fast and Furious movie. Not even close.
And the country is so small and people see them all the time. The sense of community is unmatched and everyone has a brother or a sister or a cousin’s father’s nephew related to Ivri Lider.
Is this the reason Americans can be close minded? Is it because the rest of the world gives them the feeling that they should be superior?
I guess this won’t keep me from getting sweaty palms when I receive a phone call from model Moran Atias. (She called me once to respond to an interview. Never expected it to happen!) It won’t keep me from growing envious when I hear tales of a friend who was the cinematographer for a low-budget short film starring Israeli actors Oshri Cohen and Anya Bukstein. And it won’t stop me from clamming up when I spy Ninet Tayeb down the street. I’ve already seen at least 3 or 4 other performers from A Star is Born, so why not her? (Note: A Star is Born is Israel’s version of American Idol and Ninet Tayeb was its first winner.)
But would an Israeli really care? Maybe that’s something worth following.