She’s Israel’s top diva, the Jewish state’s beloved national singer.
So when Rita released an album entirely in the language of her country’s arch-enemy Iran, naturally more than a few eyebrows were raised.
“Even my friends, when I told them I was going to do a whole record in Persian, said ‘Whoa, you are going to sing in the language of (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad,’” she said, referring to the Iranian president who has called the Holocaust a myth and threatened to wipe Israel off the map. “I’m combining Hebrew and Persian so much together and I am showing that it is possible.”
The album, “My Joys,” went gold in Israel within three weeks. More significantly, though, it seems to have generated a following in the underground music circuit in Iran at a time when tensions are high between the two countries over Iran’s suspect nuclear program.
To Rita, the album is less a political statement and more a return to her own roots.
Rita Jahan-Foruz was born in Tehran, Iran, 50 years ago. In 1970, at the age of eight, she migrated with her family to Israel, where she grew up listening to her mother sing melodies in her native Farsi.
Fifteen years later, Rita erupted onto the Israeli music scene as a one-named wonder — Israel’s Madonna, or Cher, if you will — and has since gone on to become one of the country’s top recording artists and most recognized celebrities.
When she and her ex-husband — American-born Israeli singer/songwriter Rami Kleinstein — divorced a few years ago, it was front page news.
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She’s such an Israeli icon that she was chosen to sing the national anthem in 1998 at the country’s main jubilee celebration, answering a personal plea from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ten years later, as the country marked its 60th anniversary, she was chosen as Israel’s top female singer ever.
Still, she stayed close to her Iranian roots. Some 250,000 Israelis are of Iranian descent. Rita is perhaps the most famous of all.
Rita’s album comes at a sensitive time. Israel is concerned that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon, a scenario it says would threaten the existence of the Jewish state. Israeli leaders cite Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction, Iran’s development of sophisticated missiles and Iran’s support for anti-Israel groups in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Israeli leaders have frequently hinted at the possibility of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities should international sanctions fail.
Iran denies it is trying to develop atomic weapons.
Despite such tensions, Rita said she only had warm memories of the people and places she left behind.
“I was born to an amazing culture,” she told The Associated Press. “Most of the world, they didn’t know that from this culture came so many things.”