WATCH: Leonard Cohen Performs in Front of 50,000 in Israel

75-year-old singer raised Ramat Gan stadium to its feet in one of the most inspiring shows of the season.

Haaretz Service
City Mouse
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Haaretz Service
City Mouse

Veteran singer Leonard Cohen took to the stage at Ramat Gan stadium on Thursday night after breaking an Israeli record when all the tickets for his show were sold out in less than 12 hours, despite costing between NIS 1,000 and 1,200.

Seconds after Cohen took to stage in his legendary tailored suit and hat the 75-year-old singer-songwriter softly uttered a Hebrew prayer in front of some 50 thousand people curious to see how the frail looking man planned to overcome the distance between the stage and the people tens of meters in the back.

Ramat Gan stadium was not the most suitable venue for a Leonard Cohen concert. The sound was not at its best and the intimacy factor between the singer and his audience seemed at first somewhat non-existent.

But the very instant the music began and Cohen opened his mouth to sing "Dance Me to the End of Love," his celebrated deep voice overcame each and every centimeter of distance and signaled the triumphant tone of the entire evening.

In the first half of the concert the Canadian virtuoso played his early hits such as "Bird on a Wire" and "Chelsea Hotel" before skipping off the stage like a young boy for a 15 minute break.

As expected Cohen saved his most anticipated songs for the second and most memorable half of the show, "Famous Blue Raincoat," "Hallelujah" and "First We Take Manhattan" which raised the entire stadium to its feet.

Everyone in the audience felt like Cohen was personally singing to them and the enthusiastic and even ecstatic crowd wouldn't let the singer leave until his third encore.

Cohen himself appeared touched by the gesture and in return held one of the most inspiring concerts of the season.

Before the concert, an event was held in the VIP section of the stadium for the Leonard Cohen Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace, which gives support to bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families. At this event, grants were given to people who have suffered personally from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but continue to believe in peace and work to achieve it.

Around 200 bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families attended the concert, among them renowned novelist David Grossman. Many other celebrities and movers and shakers of Israeli society were there as well.

Cohen had announced about two months ago that the proceeds from his performance in Israel would go toward the reconciliation fund, after his plan to perform in Israel sparked opposition.

A pro-Palestinian group had called "Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel" urged the singer to cancel the show and launched a protest campaign. And some Palestinian activists called for a boycott because of Israel's invasion of Gaza, which was aimed at stopping daily rocket attacks.

Cohen, who is Jewish but was ordained as a Buddhist monk, responded by offering to perform in the West Bank city of Ramallah. However, that offer was rejected by the Palestinian protesters. He then said all proceeds would go to Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations.

Initially, Cohen asked Amnesty International to help him distribute the funds, which he hoped would help smaller groups that work for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. But Amnesty backed out of that arrangement, so Cohen started his own charity to distribute money to community groups. The charity is run by a board of Israelis and Palestinians.

During the concert, organizers screened some of Kobi Meidan's translations of Cohen's songs. But it seemed as if almost everyone knew the English lyrics by heart.

Cohen last performed in Israel in 1975. Before that, he entertained Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.