Ambassador Rita: Iranian-Israeli superstar dazzles diplomatic crowd

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Iranian-born Israeli singing superstar Rita Jahanforuz, on a US tour to promote her Persian language hit album, ‘My Joys,’ charmed guests at a performance at the Washington residence of Israeli Ambassador Michael and Sally Oren Monday night.

Several in the largely Iranian American audience had flown in from Los Angeles to see the Israeli Madonna, known universally just as Rita, sing the Persian hits of their youths. The crowd in the packed living room at times could hardly contain themselves from joining in, as Rita sang in Farsi and Hebrew, recalled her mother’s Persian lullabies, and cracked a couple political jokes. (“The last president I sang for went to prison,” she quipped in one such exchange, apparently referring to former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was also born in Iran.) Amb. Oren, who addressed Rita “as one ambassador to another,” joined the band for a final number, playing the Irish drums.

Talking about a message she had received from a fan in Iran, where Rita’s albums are reportedly an underground sensation played at weddings, Rita spoke of her hope that one day Iranians and Israelis can again be friends.

“‘Rita khoshgelee (beautiful), I so want to come see your concert, even if I would receive 3 years in jail and 20 lashes,'” she cited the message, adding, “So every concert, I keep a chair open, so that Israel and Iran can one day be open to each other.”

And then she and her band took the crowd into another joyful, Persian-Klezmir-gypsy-Polish wedding frenzy.

Rita “is so wonderful..She brings out the longing which many Iranian-Israelis like me have for Iran,” Israeli journalist Meir Javedanfar told The Back Channel. “Her singing gives us hope that these tough days of separation with Iran will one day be over.”

“One day, after an Alien invasion, Iranians and Israelis will enjoy kabobs & bad pop music together,” a person who uses the handle “Tehran artist,” wrote in response to a Twitter posting on the concert Monday.

Rita performs at the Strathmore Center Tuesday night.

(Photo Credit: Shmulik Almany, courtesy of the Embassy of Israel in Washington.)