JERUSALEM – A young Arab woman who won an Israeli music contest has become an unlikely star, capturing hearts in a country where suspicion and hostility often mark relations between Arabs and the Jewish majority.
Nissren Kader recently won first place on “Eyal Golan is Calling You,” a popular TV show hosted by one of Israel’s most successful entertainers. On the program, Golan as host chooses over the course of a 3-month competition the best performer of Mizrahi songs, the musical tradition of Middle Eastern Jews.
In winning the show, the 25-year-old Kader seems to have pulled off a difficult balancing act: She touched on the nostalgia that many first and second generation Mizrahis, or Jews of Middle Eastern origin, feel for their ancestral homelands, even though most proudly identify as Israeli. And by singing beautifully in Hebrew, she charmed her audience by showing that she was moved by their cultural traditions.
“I am so proud: I’m the first Arab to win a Hebrew singing program,” said Kader, who is from the northern Israeli city of Haifa. “I never imagined that they (Jews) would like me to the degree that they did. I’m an Arab citizen in a state that has troubles and disagreements between Jews and Arabs, and they saw something else,” she said. “They saw another side.”
Kader, who before competing on the show worked as a wedding singer in the Arab community, shared her win in late March with Maor Ashwal, a Jewish Israeli. The finals, on a cable TV music channel, were the second most-watched show on television that night, says an economic magazine that publishes Israeli TV ratings.
During the final, her audiences sang along, cheered and clapped to songs in Hebrew – and Arabic.