EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘We’re here to show our voice,’ says Israel’s Eurovision contender

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘We’re here to show our voice,’ says Israel’s Eurovision contender

In defiance of the boycott calls, Eden Golan is ready to take the stage for her country

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Eden returned to Israel two years ago and is now the country's Eurovision contender (pic: Shay Franco)
Eden returned to Israel two years ago and is now the country's Eurovision contender (pic: Shay Franco)

Radiant, beautiful and indubitably confident, from the moment she says“hello, nice to meet you”, it’s clear Eden Golan is ready to represent her country at Eurovision. And why shouldn’t she be? It’s just a song contest, and a laughable one for those who dismiss it as such, while forgetting it ranks among the world’s most-watched non- sporting events every year, with hundreds of millions of viewers globally.

Performing at the contest provides artists with a career boost and, in some cases, long-lasting international success.

The sort of success that will be brandished on 7 May, when Sweden’s Malmö Arena is festooned with golden anniversary bunting to mark Abba’s Eurovision victory in 1974.

Of course, few make the instant boom of Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid or sustain that position, building a fortune with hit aftfter brilliant hit. But Eurovision is the platform that opens the door. A door that many want slammed shut on Israel.

Driven by Pro-Palestinian rhetoric on social media, supporters have infiltrated the most innocuous Facebook fan groups and changed the narrative from pre- Eurovision excitement to vicious anti- Zionist hate. Yelling from their keyboards, vitriol sealed with watermelon emojis and misspellings of ‘genocide’ are shared on X… and y and z, and then came an open letter from LGBTQ+ artists, among them Queers for Palestine, writers and activists who called on British entrant Olly Alexander to boycott the competition.

The moment Eden Golan won her chance to sing for Israel

This was after the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which runs the event, agreed that Israel could participate. But, rather than opt out and forgo singing Dizzy for the UK, Alexander and eight other Eurovision contestants refused to boycott the competition and instead issued a statement calling for the release of the hostages and a ceasefire. They added: “We firmly believe in the unifying power of music, enabling people to transcend differences and foster meaningful conversations and connections.”

Performing in such a politically charged space against the incessant hum of hate would challenge a seasoned performer and Eden is only 20.

This statement matters to the woman who is singing for Israel at Eurovision. Competing with the song Hurricane, written by Keren Peles, Avi Ohayon and Stav Beger, it was originally called October Rain until it was disqualified by the EBU for violating contest rules about remaining non-political. Now with the lyrics changed to reflect a young woman surviving a personal crisis, in place of such lines as: “There is no air left to breathe / No place, no me from day to day / They were all good kids”, Eden Golan will take the stage with Hurricane.

Performing in such a politically charged space against the incessant hum of hate would challenge a seasoned performer and Eden is only 20. But she is ready –and her voice, with its impressive range, commands attention. Complimenting her on this results in a squeal. Just a small one though, as she is protecting her sound, which she discovered aged nine.

“I started singing then, but not seriously until I was 10 or 11 when I thought ‘Yeah, I’m fully into this’,” she laughs. “Over the years, my voice got better, and I kept practising, but I still have places to go. I feel until the day I die, I will have a vocal coach and try to get better.”

Eden with parents Eddie and Olga and brother Sean

Eden’s parents – her father Eddie is from Latvia and her mother,Olga from Ukraine – don’t sing. “No, only my dad’s sister is musical, a classical pianist. I guess God just gave me a gift and I’m here to use it to make people happy”.        Born in Israel, Eden lived there until she was six. “Then we moved to Moscow because of dad’s work for an Israeli company. At first it was for three years, then the contract got extended, so we ended up staying 13.”

But it was in Moscow that Eden found her voice, qualifying first as a finalist on The Voice Kids, before joining a girls’ pop group managed by one of Russia’s biggest music producers.

“Everything started there,” she says. “But we waited for the moment when we would move back to Israel. Our family is here and every time we visited we craved that feeling.” The Golan family returned two years ago and, she says: “We were finally home. There’s no other place in the world where we truly feel at home and it was very easy to get used to being in Israel again because the people are friendly and warm.”

As warm and friendly as Israelis are, Eden was back to square one as a singer. “No one knew me here, I had left everything behind. So, realising I had nothing to lose, I uploaded a demo I’d written on TikTok and it blew up.” That producers spotted Eden’s potential is not a surprise and, after meeting a few, she signed with Session 42 and, not long after, entered Israel’s biggest talent show HaKokhav HaBa (The Next Star).

“It was a very intense season because of the situation in the country,” she says, aware that her answers require sensitivity. “At one point, there was a big question mark as to whether the season would happen at all, but it did and I ended up winning and here I am representing Israel after being back in the country for only two years. It’s crazy.”

Eden’s birthday is October 5 and there were no celebrations, as the war started two days later. “October 7, the ‘Black Saturday’ as we call it,” she says, dropping her head. “Our entire country is traumatised. We have people – girls, teenagers, the elderly – held as hostages. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. At the Nova festival, people came to celebrate life and then ended up in the worst horror movie you could imagine.”

Although none of Eden’s immediate family were directly affected by the Hamas attacks, like most Israeli citizens she knows people who were.“I have a friend who didn’t go to the party, but her boyfriend, Ben Shimoni, did.He left the festival, but went back three times to rescue people – nine of them. The fourth time he returned he was murdered. He was an absolute hero, what a soul to go back to save people. My neighbour’s best friend also went to the festival and is not here any more. Israel is such a small country; anyone you talk to has lost someone or knows someone who was killed or kidnapped.”

Eden says: “I was put on this earth to sing “.

That she has been chosen to represent her country is tainted by the loss of lives, but is cushioned by the support of a huge family. “That’s what it is. When all this horrible stuff happened, everything was amplified and we all came together to help each other, donating, because we are one. I don’t know many countries where people are so there for each other. That’s what keeps us going and gives us the strength and power to continue.”

Few 20-year-olds speak with pride and determination – a winning combination for a contestant about to sing for a potentially combative crowd. “It was shocking to hear they wanted to disqualify us because of the song,” says Eden, who used to watch the contest with best friend Tanya in Moscow.

“Everything was done in order that we could participate. So honestly, I’m not looking back. I’m just happy we’re here to show our voice.” Despite the “unifying power of music” statement, how this translates in the contest lies with the UK’s Olly Alexander and the other Euro signatories who want to “foster meaningful connections” and will do, if Eden and Israel make it through the semi-finals.

Malmö is preparing for protests and the city itself has had problems with antisemitism, which was being controlled, but October 7 and the war have reignited tensions. As Abba sang 50 years ago in their winning song Waterloo: “The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself”, which is true for Israel and the repeated cultural boycotts it faces. Even on home turf when the country hosted Eurovision in 2019, artists bellowed about not attending and Icelandic group Hatari wore Palestinian flags.

The video for Israel’s Eurovision entry, Hurricane.

Aged 18 on her return to her homeland, Eden has since received her call up to the Israeli Defence Forces and will enter the army after Eurovision. She is ready to serve her country, but singing will remain a priority and, if it weren’t for rehearsals, she would be composing and producing in her home studio now. “I will never stop,” she says. “Music is the reason I’m on this earth. I was born for this and it’s all I want to do.”

With such a sense of purpose, Eurovision might just be an Abba stepping stone for Eden, who takes comfort in the fact that Israel’s detractorshave failed to stop Hurricane ranking high with Eurovision fans, many of whom have placed it in their top three.

“Of course, I know what’s going on,” she smiles. “It warms my heart to see the amount of good and supportive messages we are getting because they truly like the song. Music has its own language and it connects people on a different frequency. And any person from any country or any race can feel something together. And I feel like that’s what’s happening.”

Changing the song October Rain has given Eden the lyrics “Take it all and leave the world behind”. Here’s hoping.

The Eurovision Song Contest takes place in                                            Malmö, Sweden, from 7 to 11 May

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