Ha’Kochav Ha’ba is one of Israel’s most popular televised singing competitions. Instead of mere fame and fortune, each season’s winner is dispatched to represent the nation in the Eurovision song contest, a continental musical extravaganza that is, to paraphrase the saying, a continuation of war by other means. All of this is to say that it’s a show Israelis take very seriously, which is why they were thrilled this Sunday when Nissim, a black haredi rapper, took the stage.
Born Damian Black in Seattle, Nissim was once described by the Seattle Times as “Seattle hip-hop’s first son, the mini-wrecking ball with a golden voice.” He found Jesus when he was 14, but after his friend was shot and killed began questioning his faith and grew closer to a local community of Jews for Jesus. Enamored with Judaism’s teachings, he began to study it more seriously, and, together with his wife, converted to Orthodox Judaism. The couple and their five children made aliya in 2012, with Nissim recording a string of albums that featured his high-brow conversational style—think Talib Kweli—with his obvious passion for his religion.
On the TV show this past weekend, Nissim wowed the judges with a song, “Fly Away,” that begins with an auto-tuned plea to escape “this place” and evolves into a spiritual plea that calls out to the neshama, or soul, and name-checks a host of religious terms that probably baffled most secular Israelis.
Still, greatness is greatness, and it transcends all barriers. So sit back, turn the volume all the way up, and let Nissim take it away: