Monday evening, Paris: Ritathon
For the past few weeks, a photograph of Rita, wrapped in an Israeli flag, appeared in big ads in the Jewish community press, announcing that the Israeli pop diva would soon be giving a performance in Paris. On the evening of the event, hundreds of police deployed at the entrance to the Casino de Paris, not far from Place de Clichy, and together with security guards hired by the community, grilled every concert-goer. After the interrogation, the ticket holders entered, only to discover alongside the sandwiches ("kosher Paris Rabbinical Court"), piles of Israeli flags and Israel Defense Forces banners and olive tree saplings. As Michael Bar Zvi, the Paris emissary of the Jewish National Fund, explained, "This is an event in honor of Tu Bishvat [Arbor Day]. It is an ecological holiday, a national holiday, a Zionist holiday."
Prominent in the audience, in addition to Israeli expatriates, were the elders of the community, including many women who have been attending events like this for decades because "we are Jews and everything relating to Israel affects us," as Lilian and her friends Therese and Regine - all wearing fur coats - noted. Hundreds of younger people showed up in order to admire "the Israeli star with the most beautiful voice and the most charming husband," as Jeanne, a 21-year-old student who looks like a replica of Rita, puts it.
Everyone paid a fairly hefty amount - 20 to 80 euros - for a ticket, but you don't get a diva so easily. "At the last minute," the raucous emcee, Charlie, a broadcaster on a local Jewish radio station, explained to the thousand or so people who almost filled the hall, the evening had been designated "a gesture of solidarity with our Israeli brethren in Sderot" - meaning a fund-raising event. An Israeli singer named "Orlika" took the stage and in a scratchy voice screamed the words to "I Have No Other Country" and "Jerusalem of Gold." She also did some hip wiggling. Next appeared the president of the JNF in France, Dr. Frederique Norman, sporting a bow tie, praised the JNF for purchasing land in Israel, proof that we are "the legitimate owners of the land of Zion and Jerusalem, which we love so much." He concluded with a call of "Am Yisrael hai!" (the people of Israeli lives) to thunderous applause.
Returning to the stage, the emcee asked the audience, "60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz," to rise for a minute of silence in memory of Ella Abukasis, the Sderot teenager who was killed by a Qassam rocket in mid-January. "We are all her bereaved parents," he said. In order "to defeat the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people by establishing a public garden for the children of Sderot," he asked the members of the audience to come to the stage one at a time and donate "until the stage is filled with people, as at Masada, where we stand together and say: Never again! We will not tolerate innocent children in Israel being victims!" The donors were asked to declare how much they were giving the JNF.
Rita took the stage at 10 P.M., an hour and a half after the event began, did her show and thanked "the French Jews who never stopped coming to Israel even when there were terrorist attacks every day. We will never forget that. Then she reprised "Jerusalem of Gold."