Carrying the Torch

Yair Lapid is an outstanding performer, a born stand-up comic. By the faint light of my cellphone I try to jot down his witticisms, which are flying fast and furious, but the people around me are grumbling.

Last Saturday night, about 700 residents of Nes Tziona attended a performance at their local culture hall. These days sexologist Tzachi Ben Zion is appearing there in the show "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" ("A runaway success - please purchase tickets in advance" ). And also the all-time hit "I'm Here Because of My Wife 2012," which is every bit as successful, is also being staged there. But tonight the audience is here for an evening of song and entertainment entitled "Not Final," featuring Yair Lapid and friends.

Nes Tziona, "the cultural heart of the Shfela region," a place where there's no such thing as two alleys that don't meet at a traffic circle, where there is no traffic circle without manicured landscaping, and where there is no manicured landscaping without a statue. For example, the statue of the town's founding father, Michael Halperin - astride a horse, Israeli flag in hand - with "Nes Ziona" inscribed at the base, at the intersection of First Minyan Street and Shoshanim Valley Boulevard.

Lapid - Levac - Feb 2012
Alex Levac

It was Nahalat Reuven (an ancient Zionist colony, in local terms ) that eventually became Nes Tziona, the town between Rishon Letzion and Rehovot. The one with a biological research institute and a burgeoning science park on its outskirts. "Raise the flag of Zion high / The standard of Judah's camp / Some by wagon, some by foot / Together homeward let us tramp / Together let us all return / To our ancient fathers' land / To our beloved maternal country / The cradle of our youthful band ... Then we will be a people as we were before" - thus go the words of the song written long ago by Noah Rosenbloom. And who if not Yair Lapid would remember that we are a people. The ticket cost NIS 120.

As if it were Noah's Ark, they filed into the hall tonight, these Nes Tzion-ans, two by two, to see the television celebs up close: Lapid from "Ulpan Shishi" ("Friday Studio" ); Rami Kleinstein, a mentor on The Voice; and a third person and childhood friend, Tamir Harpaz from pop star Einat Sarouf's show.

"I don't want to be the cause of an unpleasant situation, when they come and take your camera away," says a powerfully built security man in a jacket and tie, warning us about taking pictures during the event.

By the way, in Nes Tziona they don't tear your ticket stub at the entrance; you wave it in front of an electric eye that reads it. "Enjoy yourselves," bids the usher with the laser gun that reads the barcode.

A bluish spotlight on the stage illuminates a piano, two guitars, three microphones and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The auditorium is full, practically a sellout crowd, a crowd of 50-somethings, more or less Ashkenazi, more or less secular. Middle of the road in the middle of Israel. The mainstream of the mainstream, the middle class, the archetypical electoral target of the party-in-the-making. They'll be voting Lapid here. Of course, this hall might have been full even before Lapid announced he was starting a political party. In any case, the evening now beginning will be a full-fledged electoral rally, even if it includes singing and music, and not only talking.

This is all quite innovative, when you think about it. Tonight folks have not only come to see their darling of the small screen, the fellow who wrote the sugary-sweet columns they clipped and put on the 'fridge door - but also the next great political hope.

Nes Tziona - Levac - Feb 2012
Alex Levac

Lapid gets up on the stage, skipping lightly up the steps. He is wearing a black shirt. "I decided to go wild and wear black," he says. This time the shirt is not properly ironed; it hangs out sloppily over the muscular body that has lost a little weight. There's no gel in the hair.

"If anyone has come to hear politics, he's liable to be disappointed," Lapid says, beginning his monologue. Then without missing a beat he goes on to review the basic elements of his platform: First, there's "We are the crushed generation." Second (and, for now, last ) is the "Where's the money" principle from his ideological manifesto, which will be addressed later on, in between jokes.

With or without a doctorate from Bar-Ilan, he's a charmer, who simply adores being on stage. During the next two hours or so he will joke and clown around, laugh and make others laugh, always being clever and articulate. He never stops flirting with his audience, which, yet again tonight, eats it up. No wonder. Lapid describes to them exactly what is happening in their homes - in their kid's bedroom, in their own bedroom and guest room and bathroom. With the wife and the beer belly, the toilet seat, the salary, the sex, the children and their teachers. It is so very easy to identify with everything, but everything, that he is saying.

The dosage is measured: sexist allusions, but no more than allusions; bourgeois insinuations, but only insinuations; and a dash of racism, but no more than a dash. And hovering over the proceedings are sacred nationalism and hallowed Zionism, which are also merely hinted at. There's no other place like this. No other people like this.

Ironic quips, punch lines. Just like in his newspaper columns.

Lapid is an outstanding performer, a born stand-up comic. By the faint light of my cellphone I am trying to jot down his witticisms, which are flying fast and furious, but the people around me are grumbling. They came to have a good time, and my light interferes with their ability to concentrate on the material.

Yehonatan Geffen once wrote (in Hebrew it rhymes ): "39, the disgusting age." His son, Aviv, once sang about a "fucked-up generation." Now Lapid talks about "the crushed generation." The parents founded the state, and we are paying off its debts. The parents "liberated the mountain," and whom did we free? Willy. "Unrequited love is preferable to not having loved at all." Alex Levac explains in a whisper: Nietzsche. "Where is the responsible adult, because we cannot go on this way. It turns out that the responsible adult is us" - or in other words, the responsible adult is Yair Lapid.

These remarks are immediately followed by a few nice things about ourselves, the exact sort of things we like to hear. "Sometimes it is permissible to stop and give ourselves a little credit." Where could you find another country like this, where can you find people like this? "This is the only country that I could live in." And thank you for coming, and please give a warm welcome to Rami Kleinstein and Tamir Harpaz.

"There's no one like her, who knows it better than I do / There's no one like her, it's getting stronger. / There's no power strong enough to take her from me / I must not forget that happiness is in doubt ... And when the house is empty, the house is empty / It makes no difference to me if I'm right" ("There's No One Like Her," lyrics by Meir Goldberg, music by Rami Kleinstein ).

There's no one like her - the beloved woman, the country, or the beloved country. Now let's hear you! And the entire auditorium is humming along.

From the trivia questionnaire that Lapid prepared especially for the evening, it transpires that Kleinstein doesn't know what xenophobia is.

"You can open your eyes, you Israelis," Lapid says, comforting us, after instructing his audience to shut their eyes and imagine.

"Do you have anyone better to vote for? Got anyone better than him? I think he's a good guy," says a husband to his wife as they headed for the exit.