The Secret to Winning Eurovision, According to a Longtime Groupie

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A die-hard Eurovision fan offers insight into the event's utopian hookup culture, and a religious couple explains what it's like to observe Jewish law while traveling

Liat Elkayam
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Oben Kaya.
Oben Kaya.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam

Oben Kaya, 28; lives in Istanbul and flying there

Hello, can I ask what you were doing in Israel?

I came for the Eurovision contest, to support Cyprus. I live in Turkey but I’m originally from Cyprus and I’m part of the Eurovision bubble.

What’s that?

A large community of people from all over the world who follow Eurovision and travel to the country where it’s being held. Before this I was at Eurovision in Kiev, Vienna and Lisbon. Tel Aviv was especially good. The food is amazing, the ‘White Night’ event was fun and the Eurovision village was huge and well organized. I was in the village the whole time and I saw all the shows there.

Did you come alone?

In Lisbon I went with my partner, but I came to Tel Aviv with a group of friends. We have a YouTube channel that’s devoted to Eurovision – reviews, surveys, analyses, numbers, betting, statistics. There are people from all over the world in the group: Belgians, Serbs, Australians, Brits. As soon as the dates for next year’s Eurovision, in Amsterdam, are announced, I’ll book.

Sounds like you’re addicted.

Indeed. I got into all this in 2003, when I was only 12. One night I couldn’t fall asleep. I turned on the TV with very little sound, so my parents wouldn’t catch me, and suddenly I saw a Turkish singer on the screen, so I kept watching. That was one of the tensest contests: In the end, Turkey won by two points. I got addicted to the adrenaline. After completing university, I decided to travel in the wake of Eurovision.

What did you study?

Political science and international relations. And maybe this is an opportunity to say that it’s always claimed that Eurovision is not political, but it’s impossible to neutralize the role of politics in it. People have all kinds of agendas they want to promote in Eurovision, too: LGBT rights, ethnicity. And that’s perfectly all right. Because in art, people express what they feel. And it’s also true that there are countries that will always give each other 12 points, because they’re neighbors. But politics is not enough. Otherwise Russia would always win, because it has the most neighboring countries. What wins is the whole package: song, artist, charisma, performance – and politics. And the order of the songs is also important. Which, by the way, is a point that always bugs me.

Isn’t the order decided by a lottery?

Today it’s Eurovision and the host country that decide, because in the past, when people drew lots, the show wasn’t balanced. There might be eight ballads in a row, for example. Now they pick a big song to start with and then zigzag between the styles. It’s not fair, because the order of the songs clearly influences the chances of winning – about 25 percent of it. The last song you heard is what counts. Take Britain, for example. They had a pretty good song, but they appeared after Israel, and Kobi Marimi gave a really good show. They didn’t stand a chance.

What do you listen to at home?

Only Eurovision songs. But not only the ones that made it into the finals. There’s a big playlist that comes out every year. I’m a boring guy, that’s how it is.

I’d actually say you have a great many areas of interest.

I’m interested in international politics and Eurovision. And I dance. By the way, if you ever go to a Eurovision party, you’ll see that the contest itself is only the second-most important subject in conversations there.

What’s first?

How to find the perfect match for the night.

That’s always a big issue. How does it work at Eurovision?

People walk around with their country’s flag. “I’ve already had a German, I’ve already had a French person – but, hey, look at that! I’ve never had anyone from Cyprus.” (Laughs) Being from Cyprus is a big advantage.

Why? Does it sound exotic?

Cypriots aren’t so common in the Eurovision bubble, and we’re a friendly nation, so people like us.

I guess I’m starting to understand the charm.

It’s not just dating. Everyone comes from a different country, with different opinions and a different religion, but in Eurovision no one cares. We’re all one big family. Eurovision is a utopian world, closed and small – an example of what there could be if we just focused on what we have in common.

But what happens if you meet a great-looking guy who doesn’t like the same song you do?

You say, “Shh, don’t talk. I love you more when you’re silent.”

Emanuel and Noam Schriber.
Emanuel and Noam Schriber.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Emanuel and Noam Schriber, 26 and 23, live in Jerusalem; arriving from Budapest

Hello. What did you do in Hungary?

Noam: We went with my parents and my sister for a weekend. It’s the first time we flew as a family.

Emanuel: It was great.

Noam: It was special. Lots of laughter. I’m also in my fifth month, so it was a “fitness” trip, because in Israel it’s too hot to go walking, and there we just walked the whole of Budapest.

What was so funny?

Noam: We mostly burst into laughter because we’re religious, and we couldn’t carry things on Shabbat outside the eruv, and we didn’t have time to build a fence around the city.

I don’t understand. “Eruv”?

Emanuel: On the Sabbath, there’s a private area and a public area, and if you want to carry things from place to place you can only do it within the private area. Or you can enclose the entire area with a border, creating a common space for everyone and within that you can carry things.

Noam: On Shabbat, when we walked around Budapest, I took a coat and I had to wear it for three hours, even though I was hot in it. I couldn’t take it off, because you can’t carry things outside the eruv. In Israel all the cities are surrounded by an eruv, usually in the form of a wire.


Noam: Yes. For example, in Netanya the sea is outside the eruv, you can’t swim on Shabbat, because if I go into the water and come out with drops dripping from me – it’s considered carrying the drops.

Sounds like that could really make a trip abroad complicated. I thought only kashrut was problematic.

Noam: Actually, we know how to get along with the kashrut issue. You just buy basic things.

Emanuel: You can have beer, but not wine and also not bread.

Noam: Because we don’t know what ingredients they use, so it’s known as bread of gentiles and wine of gentiles.

Emanuel: The logic behind the prohibition is that it was said that it’s better for Jews not to mingle too much with those around them, and not to drink with them. But that bothers us a little, because we do want to mingle with people and get to know them. That’s precisely the point of taking a trip abroad. We talked about how the Jews in the ancient exile maybe didn’t have a state, so it was more logical, but as Israelis today we actually really want to taste the food.

Did you fantasize about goulash?

Noam: We really wanted to eat kurtosh, the local pastry, and there’s only one place to get a kosher one in the city.

Emanuel: But the aroma of those pastries is all over the city, in every corner.

A carb fast is something terrible.

Noam: And two days before Shabbat, we tried to explain to people in the hotel by pantomime that would need them to help us open the door to our room, because we can’t even take a key with us. That was really funny.

Which stream of Judaism are you?

Noam: We’re national religious.

Emanuel: We belong to the religious-Zionist movement. Next to the parliament in Budapest we saw an installation of a great many shoes, made by an artist in 2005, which is meant to illustrate the murder of the Jews in World War II, when they were shot and thrown into the river. But local people aren’t so happy to point out that they were Jews.

Noam: It also doesn’t say who committed the mass murder, only “Iron Cross militias.”

Emanuel: It connects me to the Jewish story. I am there and I feel Jewish and different, but I also feel like a tourist and a worldly person. All together it can be a little confusing, and Shabbat brings me back down to earth. I very much relate to the idea, which might sound a little ridiculous, that Shabbat is a place of comfort which you don’t leave physically. There’s something about halakha [religious law] that I connect with, and the fact that we’re without a phone is also nice.

Noam: It may sound a little problematic, all these annoying little practices, but it’s what shapes the large worldview. Because if I were to say, this yes and that no – everything would fall apart.

Emanuel: We couldn’t buy anything, either, because we didn’t take money with us on Shabbat.

Oy! That’s a lot worse than the kurtosh.

Emanuel: The only shopping you can do on Shabbat is window shopping. Men like that. It’s economical.