Atop Masada, or maybe it was at the lookout point when we first arrived in Jerusalem, while in the midst of turning a complex historical event into a digestible story, our trip leader Yoav would suddenly say, “Back to reality.”
We all knew what was coming next, and it wasn’t only that the story would make a jump to the present or pick up a previous narrative thread: “Oh there goes gravity, oh he’s so mad but he won’t give up that easily,” Yoav would sing, mimicking Eminem’s dry voice and staggered cadence as he sang the rapper’s 2002 song, “Lose Yourself.”
Anyone drifting off (as Leon Neyfakh points out, Yoav’s Masada story lasted nearly two hours) suddenly snapped, well, back to reality. The first time he did it, we all laughed at the reference to a defining pop culture moment (Israelis, they’re just like us!) and soon his use of the phrase, and the singing of the resulting stanza, became a running joke.
We listened for it, we responded to it, and we remained engaged in the discussion, or lecture, or story. The guy is good.
In addition to singing the entirety of “I Got Tefillin,” a parody of the Black Eyed Peas’ catchy hit, “I’ve Got a Feeling,” by Jewish acapella group Six13 that none of us had ever heard before, Yoav made references to Walter Sobchak, John Goodman’s memorable Shomer Shabbos character in The Big Lebowski, did a decent Sylvester Stallone impression, and rattled off the chorus bar of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give it Away.”
The plugged-in educator’s most obscure reference, elicited after he said nothing more specific than the phrase “I’ve noticed,” was to this Touch and Go song, which those of us within earshot were wholly unfamiliar with. While there certainly was no language or culture barrier between us and Yoav, this particular cultural moment may have unfortunately been before our time. Either way, he had our attention.