Surprises at the Israeli Presidential Conference

by Brian on July 1, 2012

in In the News,Music

When Elie Klein, one of the PR execs working behind the scenes at the just concluded Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, told the coterie of bloggers – including yours truly – that they would have the chance to meet President Shimon Peres in a small group question and answer session, I was stoked.

Now well into his 80’s, Peres is a living legend (although he’d probably prefer to be remembered for his actions rather than his presidential pontifications). But it turns out that Peres’ unscripted talk to the bloggers was – no offense meant, really – pretty boring. If you follow the media even a little, there was nothing new in his answers to questions on Iran, reform of the Israeli system of government, or Jonathan Pollard.

Far more interesting were some of the less political presenters at the conference, in particular world-renowned sex educator Dr. Ruth, and equally world-renowned Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (who goes by the name “Noa” overseas).

I won’t report here in detail on the girth of Dr. Ruth’s tidbits – they covered such topics as the “truth” about women’s orgasms, Internet porn and onion rings (don’t ask) – but there’s just something about seeing this 4 foot 7 inch firebrand still fired up about sex at age 84. Talk about a living legend. Her session, by the way, was so popular that – after seeing the line to get into the presentation room snaking around the hallway – the event coordinators moved her to the huge hall used for the plenaries.

Achinoam Nini was part of a panel on the arts in Israel that was moderated by Israel Museum director James Snyder (the panel also included the ever hilarious Etgar Keret and award winning film director Joseph Cedar). During the Q&A that followed the session, blogger Elli Fischer asked the panel how it feels for some of them to be cross cultural “hybrids.”

Nini’s story was perhaps the clearest example of hybridization.Born in Israel to Yemenite parents, she moved at age 2 to New York where, in order that she not lose her religion, her parents sent her to an Ashkenazi yeshiva (that plus her thick black glasses and pigtails made her not exactly the most popular kid at school, she said). Nor was she particularly Zionist until she met a hunky Israeli guard with a gun on a school trip here, fell in love, and decided to throw her lot in with the rest of us crazies. She now sings in Hebrew and English.

It was Etgar Keret, though, who threw out the best zinger on the question (and he’s not even a hybrid). Just look at how we say goodbye in modern Israeli slang, he joked: “tov, yalla, bye.” Tov – Hebrew for “good,” yalla – Arabic for “let’s go,” and bye – English, no explanation needed.

The highlight of panel was when Synder prevailed on Nini on her to sing a song. There we were, a small room with a just a couple hundred attendees getting a private concert. And I got a clip – check it out here.

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I met Noa and Shimon last week on Israelity.

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