Barack Obama, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu raised their glasses and shared a few laughs at the official state dinner in Jerusalem on March 21, 2013. As part of the festivities, Rita, an Israeli-American pop singer performed for the heads of state, even blowing a kiss to Obama.
Rita Hayan-Feruz Kleinstein was born in Iran, and moved to Israel when she was eight years old. Since then, she has been a successful actress and singer, receiving accolades for her work since the eighties. As of late, she has become a cultural ambassador, especially with her new album “My Joys,” which is a mix of Iranian and Israeli standards.
Earlier this month, on March 5, she performed to a packed house at the United Nations General Assembly, where Ban Ki Moon, as well as Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, encouraged the crowd to unite through the universal language of music.
Complete with a smoke machine and lights, Rita and the nine other members of her band played to the mostly Iranian and Israeli crowd for a little over an hour, inspiring some to dance down the halls of the General Assembly. Her hype-man played the accordion and jumped up and down on the same spot where Netanyahu pulled out his now infamous bomb graphic just several months before.
“I’m celebrating being both Iranian and Israeli,” Rita told the crowd. She continuously preached love and unity as she recalled her Iranian upbringing in Israel. She most definitely exuded a sincere sweetness and hope.
While her sentiments are beautiful and clearly inspire hope, as well as nostalgia for a more peaceful time, she was, in a sense, preaching to the choir. Her music and her message are symbolically pitch-perfect, but of the hundreds of people at the United Nations concert, hardly any members of the non-Jewish Iranian community in New York were represented — even though the songs, the standards, are the same for Iranian Jews, Muslims and others.
And so while her presence at the official state dinner held for Obama in Israel was a good reminder of the bridge between Iranians and Israelis, of the similarities in the music and the dance, the question remains, is the message reaching both sides?