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Israeli Madonna Charms the United Nations

Rita performs in Hebrew, English, and Persian

Natalie Schachar
March 06, 2013
Rita.(Araham Joseph Pal)
Rita.(Araham Joseph Pal)

Rita is an Iranian-born, Israeli pop-sensation whose last name is mostly unknown to her fans. She immigrated to Israel when she was 8; and like other megastars with single monikers, she has more songs on her adopted country’s national charts than any other singer, and she regularly fills venues to capacity with renditions of Persian songs from her childhood.

In Iran, where such popular music is banned, her CD is furtively sold on the black market like foreign currency in Argentina, smuggled ivory tusks in Africa, and bootleg copies of yet-to-be released movies in the United States. Rita knows this, and a few other facts concerning Iranian prisons and government restrictions on download speed, because she gets a lot of fan mail. “Hello My Dear,” read one letter she received. “…Here in Iran, the Internet is slow and it is very hard to make contact. I would be happy if you could send me a number of your songs and projects.

Last night, the queen of live performance became somewhat of a Middle Eastern cultural attaché with a concert she gave at the United Nations for fellow seatmates who talked among themselves before the show began. Many were not sure who Rita was, but no one seemed to think that she was part of the Mongolian National Horse Fiddle Ensemble, and most had found out that she was ¨actually, really famous,” after they got a ticket. Moti Bahat, a thirty-three-year-old video game producer, was excited to hear that Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder were the last two solo artists to sing in the General Assembly Hall, and he said that it would have been great to see a triple bill. Then the lights dimmed.

Ban-Ki Moon, perhaps pleased to oversee the largest breakthrough in Iranian-Israeli relations yet, navigated his way around the drums and said that he had no doubts it would be a memorable evening. President of the Assembly Vuk Jeremik, noted that music making, along with herding and metal forging, are the three fundamental professions mentioned in the Bible. And then Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor, rapturously enamored and notably proud that he was the invisible hand behind this meld of pop culture super stardom and international diplomacy, introduced the diva.

On cue, Rita took to the stage. Wearing a brown and pink fringed dress and a pair of cream-colored pumps, she sang her popular hits in Hebrew, Farsi and English; and she laughed easily, as if the podium was hers for the taking and the General Assembly Hall was the latest concert venue on her latest concert tour. Theatrical smoke rose from the floor and the musician belly-danced and twisted and posed for an audience who found itself sharing a most unusual historical moment with Mr. Moon.

Then, after singing her tenth song, she graciously acknowledged the applause of her concertgoers with a few heartfelt words. ¨Only dreamers can make change in this world,¨ she said. With that, the goddess was gone, and two nations were left to continue forging their common destiny.

Natalie Schachar is an editorial intern at Tablet. A recent graduate of Barnard College, she has written for the Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The Argentina Independent and Lilith Magazine.