‘S’ always figured she would serve in the army entertainment corps from the day she could dance in front of the television like the small figures inside the box, but the odds were against her. A girl from a tough neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, raised by a single mom, two older siblings, a dad who forgets to come home for months at a time, four people living on less than $1,000 a month.
It’s just that ‘S’ can sing. There are people like that to whom it comes naturally. They hear a song once and they get it immediately, lyrics and melody together. She also saw her future as something signed sealed and delivered.
First, she joins the army entertainment corps; then a role in a musical on the stage at Habima, like the one that launched singer Miri Masika; maybe one season on TV and then, unexpectedly, she vanishes, going off to study at the Rimon School of Music or Beit Zvi Acting School. She returns after three years with new material for her debut album; something a little Nora Jones with a Macy Grey edge.
We were sitting in a coffee shop once and ‘S’ joined us. We were happy for her. She radiates a kind of light. “Just wait,” she said with 17-year-old conviction, “I am going to be part of your crowd, you artists, performers, and drinking coffee with you.” Hey, I said, you are already sitting with us. Everyone laughed but she insisted. “Not like this,” she said.
Her older sister called me three weeks ago almost in tears. ‘S’ missed the entrance exams for the entertainment corps. Turns out there is some form to be filled out in order to register and you have to do so way ahead of time. And there’s some announcement you can’t miss because the army doesn’t exactly advertise in neighborhoods like the one in which ‘S’ lives. She called and explained that this is her dream. She did not know the dates of the auditions and she is ready to postpone her induction date, to push it forward, anything at all in order to try out.
On the other end of the phone a bored voice told her there was nothing she could do. ”Forget it,” he said and hung up the phone on her in mid-sentence.
I put down the receiver and thought for a moment. I started to get angry so I called my friend who happens to be IDF General Eliezer Stern, head of the IDF Division of Human Resources. We try very hard to keep work and friendship separate – mine and his – but this time I couldn’t help it. Tell me, I said t him, I thought that the whole idea was to give everyone a chance. Since when is the entertainment corps the exclusive domain of the rich kids from Kfar Shmiriyahu and Herzliya Pituach? Stern did not answer right away. It looked to me like he was angry to but I could not be sure. The only thing he said was “Give me her details.” Two days later she was called in for an audition.
Two days ago ‘S” called me.
She failed the audition.
'They wouldn’t budge'
I know that this is not the story end you all were expecting. It should have been like in Hollywood. She auditions and blows everyone away like in the dance audition scene from ‘Flashdance’ or from ‘Billy Elliot’ or every other film we’ve ever seen. But life isn’t like that. At least that is what I tried to explain to ‘S’. Everyone thinks there is only one way in and that the first setback is the problem. Once the hidden door is discovered everything else falls into place or at least things get easier.
Sometimes I receive letters. Someone sends me poems or a CD or a short story with a note reading. “I hope you’ll give me my first chance.” The really bold or desperate add something about not having parents like I do who can help so they decided to turn to me hoping I feel guilty about that.
I started to tell all of this to ‘S’. I wanted to tell her that one can always find a reason to flee instead of fight. And that anyone who has succeeded has many stories about rejection, about anger and about the moment of decision, that is, what is more important: what he thinks of himself or what others think of him. But I stopped because my erudite lectures would have to wait until she stopped crying.
That night I met comedian Yaakov Cohen at a bar in Tel Aviv. He had just finished a performance and I told him about ‘S’. “Send her to me for a chat,” he said, telling me about the long bus ride from Migdal Haemek to the tryouts for the IDF theatre troupe. He told me about not being accepted and the long ride back afterwards.
He told me about the day that he was not accepted to study acting at ‘Nissan Nativ’ drama school and the year and a half he worked cleaning apartment stairwells for money awaiting his first acting role. He told me about his first acting job and his first one-man show and the first lead actor role and the first ‘Actor of the Year’ award. It all started on the back seat of that bus from Migdal Haemek.
I have no idea – no one does – what the difference is between those who succeed and those who do not. The truth is that there is no precise moment when someone says to himself “Okay, I’ve done it.” Success is a very intangible business. It’s kind of like finding parking in Tel Aviv: Always going forward hoping, but in the end you are really far from your original destination.
The Israeli band ‘Friends of Natasha’ have this great lyric in one of their songs: “So if you’re gonna be alone, might as well keep movin’.” I still remember the ‘Friends’ when they were paying $USD 70 a month for a room at 36 Shlomo Hamelech street and thought no one would ever take their band seriously. Then success and more success and then the band broke up and then – then what?
The next day I called the sister of ‘S’ to find out how ‘S’ was doing. “She called the corps,” the sister said, “and told them she doesn’t accept their verdict and wants to appeal. She told them they were wrong and don’t understand anything and it was worth their while to give her another chance. They wouldn’t budge.”
When I hung up I though about her appeal. Deciding that the judges were wrong and she was right shows she has chosen to believe in herself and not in them. I have a strong feeling we’ll be hearing more from ‘S’.