Watching the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel this week with performers in black leather tights twisting sensuously across the stage blasting out jaded musical themes, I could not help but think of the stark contrast with the Israeli song that won the competition 40-years-ago in 1979.
Hallelujah, the Israeli song that took the prize that year is based on Psalm 148. This was the first and last time that a faith-based song won the Eurovision Song Contest. A unique honor reserved for an exceptional people.
That was not even the first time Israel had won the contest, which an estimated 300 million viewers will be watching this year from around the world. The song A-Ba-Ni-Bi performed by Yizhar Cohen took first place from among 23 nations in 1978, just a year before Hallelujah won the contest.
Cohen’s winning Israeli love song caused problems for several North African and Middle Eastern nations that were televising the contest. Most Arabic stations ended their transmission of the contest when it became clear that Israel would win. Jordanian TV finished the show with a photo of a bunch of daffodils on screen, later announcing that the Belgian entry (which finished second) was the winner. Television in the USSR only showed performances of allied countries, always with the exception of representatives of Israel.
When a year later, in 1979, Israel again won while hosting the competition at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, some called it a miracle, others the hand of G-d. Composed by Kobi Oshratand and performed by Milk and Honey, Hallelujah is taken from Psalms 148, which declares that the entire universe will praise the G-d of all creation. The prayer takes us from the sky above to the sea and the abyss and calls on all of nature with the animals, insects and birds, and finally man to sing together Hallelujah, Praise the Lord.
The song begins “Hallelujah everyone will sing” reflecting the biblical hope that not only the Jewish people will praise God, but the entire world.
The refrain turns hallelujah into a word and a faith that connects all the people of the world. Maybe that’s why Israel won with the Hallelujah song 40 years ago? Was G-d trying to say something through this beautiful song that captured the attention of a world that refuses to acknowledge Him? How else to understand that Israel, a nation despised (and not even part of Europe!), won the competition two times in a row with a Bible-themed song of praise to the G-d of Israel?
Hallelujah, indeed, G-d works in mysterious ways.
Opening chorus to Hallelujah translated from the Hebrew:
Hallelujah forever more
Hallelujah let everyone sing
With just one single word only
Hearts are filled with thanks
And beat as well, what a wonderful world.
Watch the original 1979 performance by Milk and Honey: