If you missed the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest hosted extravagantly by the city of Tel Aviv in May – or if, like us, you need to watch it again! – we are happy to report that as of July 22 the semifinal and final shows are available on US Netflix V.O.D.
What you won’t see on Netflix, however, are the exclusive behind-the-scenes Instagram images and videos ISRAEL21c brought you live, courtesy of photojournalist Elan Benor. Find those posts here.
Benor’s life story begins in Los Angeles but intersects with that of Netta Barzilai, the Israeli singing sensation whose victory at the 2018 Eurovision contest proved to the world that women don’t have to look like supermodels to be sexy, sassy and successful.
Netta was invited to perform two numbers in the 2019 show, held in Israel in her merit.
It just so happens that Netta’s significant other is Benor.
“Being at Eurovision was larger than life,” Benor tells ISRAEL21c. “Seeing it through Netta’s eyes was amazing. I loved seeing her representing Israel and equality. Netta has become the face of Eurovision. Seeing what she has brought to the world — the message of not being afraid to be yourself and show your true colors — was powerful for me.”
Benor was in search of his own true colors when he dropped out of college at 19 and came to Israel in 2012 to explore his roots. “My father is Israeli,” he explains.
He arranged his journey through Garin Tzabar, a program assisting young Jewish adults – many of them children of Israeli expats — coming from abroad to join the Israel Defense Forces. He and his group, all from LA, were assigned to Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak as their home base during their military service.
“I did my three years as a paratrooper,” Benor says. “In the army you’re exposed to a lot of different types of Israelis. I was drawn to how Israelis interact with each other, manage a team, come to decisions and voice opinions. Israelis are very outspoken and opinionated, and I think that’s what drives innovation. The more I moved around Israel the more I saw that this country is and will be very successful because of its people.”
He made the obligatory post-army “big trip” abroad and returned to Israel permanently because, he explains, he missed the people and the culture.
After a couple of years at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Benor moved to Tel Aviv and started a social-media and digital-marketing business. He began photo blogging, “sparked by the beauty and magic of living in Tel Aviv.”
Not having a college degree was no hindrance. “Israeli culture is all about experimenting and innovating. Breaking out of the mold of American expectations was hard but in Israel you’re less pressured to live life according to anyone else’s standards.”
When Benor spotted Netta in a Tel Aviv bar about a year ago, he didn’t shy away from talking to her just because she was famous.
“I didn’t know any Israeli celebrities before I met her. I have never even owned a TV,” he confides. “I was attracted to the fact that she was a very interesting person and was not afraid to show who she is.”
Both born in 1993, this couple brings together a mix of cultures. “What attracts us is that we’re so different from one another,” says Benor. “A lot of Israelis are looking for someone who can show them a different perspective on life. We do share a similar outlook on the world and a certain open-mindedness.”
He’s also found a compatible business partner in fellow LA native Josh Hoffman, with whom he is opening Tel Aviv Media Group.“He and I share the same vision to put Tel Aviv on the map as an A-list city like New York, LA and Amsterdam,” says Benor.
Having moved to a different part of Tel Aviv every three months, Benor knows the city pretty well. “One of my favorite neighborhoods was the Yemenite quarter near the beach and the shuk,” he says. He recently moved to the fashionable area around Habima Square.
“Every Israeli and international who lives here will tell you that there’s a family feeling here. You’re not starting from zero when you meet somebody. There’s a feeling of being accepted and that’s important to succeed in life,” says Benor.
“All of my close friends know very well the financial opportunities and family we gave up in America, but we all keep each other here. If a friend does leave, we all wonder, ‘How did he give up on this dream?’ We believe that living in Israel is a long-term investment. And we believe that Tel Aviv will be the city to be in.”
Benor says that ISRAEL21c’s mission dovetails with his own.
“I love the work ISRAEL21c does, showing the good side of Israel, telling stories without politics or religion, to show the world that this city, this country, is making magic and we welcome everybody no matter who you are.”
You can follow him on Instagram (@elanbenor).