Like singers Mira Awad, Ofra Haza and Dana International before her, Eden Alene is raising her voice to lift up an overlooked minority in Israel. Last week, the 19-year-old IDF soldier from Kiryat Gat became the first Ethiopian Israeli to represent the country in the prestigious Eurovision Song Contest.
Alene became the pick for the May contest being held in the Netherlands after winning the Channel 12 reality contest “HaKochav HaBa,” or “The Next Star,” on Feb. 4. Her performance in the finals was Beyonce’s “Halo.”
“It is an insane honor to represent my country. It is amazing that an Ethiopian is doing it for the first time,” she said after her victory. “Think about where we were when the Ethiopians first started making aliyah and look at where we are now. It’s a whole new world.”
Awad broke the barrier for Arab Israelis (with Achinoam Nini) in 2009, Haza did it for Israelis of Yemenite descent in 1983 and in 1998, International became Israel’s first transgender singer to represent the country at the Eurovision competition.
Alene, the choice of the panel of judges and Israeli viewers who texted their votes, is no stranger to victory. Two years ago, she won the Israeli version of “X-Factor.”
Currently fulfilling her mandatory army service, the Jerusalem native was raised in the capital city by her Orthodox Jewish single mother after her parents divorced when she was 4.
Alene released several singles for radio after “X-Factor.”
Her song for Eurovision will be selected in a nationally televised program in March, when a panel of judges and Israeli viewers can vote on one of four songs chosen from public submissions.
Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won Eurovision in 2018, which made Israel the contest host the following year.
Alene’s mother, Zehava Varkanesh, summed up what her daughter’s victory means for the Ethiopian community when she told The Times of Israel, “Eden represents pride for all Ethiopians. Everyone is behind her, supporting her and loving her.”
JTA and Jewish Week Staff