Sunday, April 25, 2010

Celebrating Yom Haatzmaut in Mitzpe Ramon

Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) is a combination of small town and big town festivities in Mitzpe Ramon. We are the largest town by far south of Be'er-Sheva, but still only about 4700 people, so this is where most people in the area come to celebrate Independence Day. The celebration here reminded me of the small New England town patriotic celebrations of Memorial Day and July 4th, but with a smidgen of big name performers thrown in.

The evening of Yom Haatzmaut a big celebration is held in the town's large Greek-style amphitheater. I had never seen this before, although it is located right next to the town's main shopping district. I would love to hold a summer theater festival here. The amphitheater has a large number of stone seats in a semi-circle around a large stage, sloping steeply up to a grassy hill above the seats.

Mitzpe Ramon's Greek-style amphitheater, capacity ~1,000 on the stone seats alone

The night's performance was mostly local children in Madame Veronica's dance school. They streamed into the dressing rooms below stage nervously awaiting their performance to begin. 

Dancers await their entrance below stage in Mitzpe Ramon

The celebration began around 8:15 when a short volley of fireworks announced the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut. Then each dance class appeared to do their choreographed number. It was really quite sweet.

Mayor Flora Shushan handed out the annual town service awards, after which the headliner for the evening appeared: Dana International. Dana won the 1998 Eurovision song contest representing Israel with her song Diva. The Eurovision contest is huge everywhere except in America, where it is hardly known at all. Dana was born Yaron Cohen in 1972 to a Yemenite Jewish family. She is one of the most famous pop singer transexuals in the world. And here she was in Mitzpe Ramon.

Dana International performs in Mitzpe Ramon

I didn't find out that Dana International was a transexual until a few days later, but it did help explain the rather androgynous backup group that danced with her. Pam had seen them about town with hulking arms and warm-up suits. One of the very precocious young dancers got up on stage and outdid Dana with some amazing moves. Dana was gracious enough to share the stage with her for a number of songs.

One of Mitzpe Ramon's own cuties gets on stage with Dana

The show was clearly going to go on for a long time, so we left after the fireworks show that began when Dana International finished her set.

The show continued on well into the night. There was another big display of fireworks again around 11:30, which I think marked the end. There was a festive and carnival-like atmosphere throughout. There were many food and tshatchke vendors set up around the amphitheater selling various eats and led-light toys, and children had foam fights throughout the night.

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