When you’re offered an opportunity to interview the biggest female singing sensation in your country, you jump at it. Last month during the Israeli Presidential Conference I was lucky enough to meet and interview Rita Jahan-Foruz a singer known simply as Rita.
Rita was born in Tehran, Iran and emigrated to Israel at the age of 8. Through hard work and lots of talent she became Israel’s most successful singing artist. For the last 25 years Rita has had an illustrious career both in Israel and abroad. Her latest album “My Joys” is entirely in her native language of Pharsi. That album has become a big seller on the black market in Iran where it is forbidden, along with all other Western music. Some say that Rita’s album would go gold in Iran if it wasn’t banned.
I waited in the VIP room for the interview to start, and I sat there becoming increasingly more nervous as I watched other people interview Rita and a host of other interesting people who were speaking at the conference. I did chuckle a bit to myself when Weili Dai, a top female entrepreneur and the CEO of Marvell (herself an amazing, friendly and gifted woman), came over to have her picture taken with Rita. It wasn’t the photo op that made me chuckle, it was the fact that right before the photo was snapped both of them fluffed their hair. It seems to be a universal quirk all women around the world have before being photographed. I was also quite in admiration how both of them managed to be on their feet all day in their beautiful but really high heels.
Okay, shallowness now aside.
Right before our interview started, a young man who was a waiter at the event came over, sat down on the couch next to Rita and started talking to her. It was spontaneous on his part and graciously received on her part. It was only after I had tweeted a picture of them talking and commented on how friendly Rita was that someone tweeted me back saying that the waiter is connected to an organization called OneFamily (a non-profit organization that rehabilitates, reintegrates and rebuilds the lives of Israel’s thousands of victims of terror attacks) which is a cause dear to Rita’s heart.
When it was my turn I came over, said hello and introduced myself. I sat down trying to look put together, which I can tell you is not an easy task when you are lugging a knapsack, a telephone, a tape recorder, notebook and ipad.
Before I even started asking questions, I gave Rita a World Moms Blog tote bag that Jennifer Burden, the founder of World Moms Blog, had sent me to gift to her. Rita loved it, and right away started putting all her things into it.
I then handed her a little gift from myself, a keychain that said in Hebrew “Music is the language of angels.” She loved that too, and you could see that her reaction was genuine and not just polite. She right away pulled out her keyring from her bag. It had lots of keys and other keychains, including one with a picture of her daughters and she clipped my gift right on. She even proudly showed it off to others.
As I was about to start asking her questions, I blurted out, “I’m a bit nervous.” She looked at me in surprise and said, “Nervous? Really? Why?” as if the concept was completely foreign to her that someone would even be nervous speaking to her. That put me completely at ease, and the interview, or should I say more of a conversation, started. When I watched some of her videos later I was able to once again see her natural friendliness and charm shine through. This video of Rita recording one of her songs in Pharsi is a good example of her being down to earth and approachable.
I offered to do the interview in English or Hebrew, but Rita wanted to practice her English so we started off in English but moved back and forth. I could tell how passionate she was about certain subjects (which was often) because that was when she moved back into Hebrew in order to be able to express herself so much more freely.
Susie: World Moms Blog represents mothers from around the world. Right now we represent 20 countries including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and many others. We write about motherhood, culture, social good, about connecting people through what they have in common.
Rita: Wow. Do you have a writer from Iran?
S: No, but if you know someone, we would love to have them on board.
I think that what you’re trying to do with music is what we at World Moms Blog are trying to do through writing, which is to bring the world together one person at a time. (Rita nodded her head at that.)
Do you see yourself as an ambassador of peace between all countries or just between Israel and Iran?
R: I think with my own existence I represent the Iranian and Israeli connection but I would love to represent as much as I can. I think that as women we have a unique way of connecting.
The male and female species are in essence two opposites. You need them both in the world, like Ying and Yang, day and night. It’s a little bit like our reproductive organs. The male behavior, like the male anatomy is surging forward, conquering, moving on with energy that is outward facing.
A woman’s energy is like our wombs. It’s meant to contain/include* and to embrace what there is no matter what. We first embrace and bring things close. We need to be able to see the strength in this, we need to influence and to realize that the place of “containing/including*” others is our strength.
It’s like a a mother who is always the center of the house. Everyone in the family comes and goes, they go a bit nuts. They cry but in the end they always come back to the middle, to the center and the nature of women is the center.
We are mothers and what happens to our children, and to the world they will inherit is important to us. We have to use our natural strengths of connecting to make sure we do what is best for them.
(*There is no great English translation for the word Rita used. The closest I got was contain but it is somewhere between contain and include with maybe a little bit of absorb.)
S: What would you suggest to women to do in order to empower themselves?
R: Not everyone can sing or dance or act or write books, but I think that each and every one of us can influence by connecting. One person connects with another and they connect with someone else from someplace place and so on. We all have to try to connect to others.
(Note: Rita is not only the best selling Israeli singer of all time, she also dances, acts and has published a children’s book. She received The Israeli Academy Award for Best Actress in 1989 for her role in The Thousand Wives of Naftali Siman-Tov, as well as the 2011 Best Actress award at the San Francisco International festival of Short Films for Ben returns Home. Her children’s book “The Girl With A Brave Heart” has been translated into English from Hebrew.)
S: That is something really close to my heart. That’s how I got to blogging, by connecting with other mothers though a forum overseas, getting to know them and having them get to know me. We were all from different cultures but we were all mothers.
One of the things which touched me was listening to you talk about how you got the love of music from your home and that your parents were very supportive of you.
R: They were supportive in their love. They didn’t understand what I was doing, going from class to class, learning acting, dancing and taking voice lessons. They didn’t understand anything about that.
S: But what I’m hearing from you is that they didn’t criticize either?
R: No they didn’t.
S: You have two daughters ages 12 and 21, right? Do you think parent/child relationships today are different then they were when you were growing up?
R: Of course. Of course. I think that back then children were not so important in what they said. They were children. Nowadays, we don’t look at children as children. They are much more important than us. We listen to them more, we are more attentive and sensitive to them. I don’t think it was like that back when I was growing up. Kids were kids. You ate and grew. No?
S: I don’t know. What I see is that kids these days are less connected to their parents than we were, at least on a daily basis. They have a lot more outlets than we had.
R: The world is changing. In this age of the television and computers, the “outside” world has more influence whereas once the “inside” world, the inner circle, had more influence.
I think that these days we give our kids so much love that maybe we spoil them too much. We are more protective of them than anyone was of us. Right?
S: I think that these days we have more to protect our children from.
R: Yes, you’re right.
S: Has fame affected your family relationship and your relationship with your daughters?
R: Of course.
S: In what ways?
R: I’m not talking about fame because fame didn’t affect anything. I am talking about not having the privacy to go for instance with my daughter to the beach. People constantly come and want to take pictures with you and you can’t possibly have privacy with your family and children outside of the house. Of course it’s something that affects you.
S: What do your children have to say about it?
R: I think they don’t like it. They are much more sensitive to people passing by and looking at them or photographing them. They are very sensitive to that.
S: Do you think your children feel any advantages of your fame?
R: Of course. They come to the concerts. They have a different type of life. Once, my daughter Meshi came home laughing at a question that someone had asked her. “What is it like to be Rita’s daughter?” She said I don’t know, I haven’t experienced anything else.
S: It sounds like she has a great sense of humor.
R: Yes, she’s amazing.
S: What is your wish for world mothers?
R: I wish for all us mothers to have the power, strength and wisdom to protect our children until they themselves have the ability to protect themselves.
I think that the most painful thing in the world is knowing that children are raped or abused and that we are not really able to protect them. That is what I am most sensitive to, knowing that somewhere out there, there is a child that is helpless and there is no one to protect him.
S: Sadly, things like that happen even to children who have people looking out for them.
R: It’s even worse when the people who are supposed to be protecting the children are the ones who do terrible things and do them harm.
S: Do you have one particular defining moment that you remember as a child?
R: Yes, yes. In Iran, my mother had a hair salon in the house. All kinds of women used to come to her. Once, a women who was almost completely bald came. All she had was wisps of hair. My mother shampooed her hair and while she was doing her hair she kept telling her you’re so beautiful, look how beautiful you are, you’re so wonderful.
I was 6, and my sister who is four years older than me was 10. My mother was working in our bedroom like she always did because that was also her work room. When the woman left, my sister said to my mother, why are you such a liar? How could you tell her she was beautiful? She was bald, she almost didn’t have any hair.
My mother then asked my sister, why do you think I was lying? My sister said, you told her how beautiful she was, what beautiful eyes she has, but she was bald. My mother then gently asked my sister, but did you look at her eyes? Her eyes were very beautiful.
And that’s the lesson I quietly learned there.
S: It seems to me that that is exactly what your book teaches, to look past the outer and see the beauty and kindness that is in each person.
R: That’s what I learned my whole life from my mother. When she looks at someone, first and foremost she looks for what’s beautiful in the person. That’s the way she sees people. That was a very big life lesson for me.
Every time I tell this story I still have goosebumps.
S: I find it amazing that I didn’t even know about your book until one of the other World Mom Bloggers told me that you had written one and it had been translated to English.
R: The book is gaining incredible momentum.
S: It should. It’s a great book with a great message and great illustrations.
(Note: The book is called The Girl With a Brave Heart. I read it in Hebrew and I love the many messages in it including the fact that people don’t always know how to ask for what they need and that we should let our hearts lead the way.)
Of course that’s when I pulled out the two copies of her book that I bought along for her to sign. I handed her a pen but she searched her bag because she has a special marker for signing books.
There is something so nice about talking to someone who is famous, who has performed for world leaders, who has bought so much joy to others through her music, yet still makes you feel no less important than she is. Maybe one day I will get to speak to her again because I really enjoyed our conversation.
I really hope Rita has unparalleled success in bringing people and countries together through her music. My wish for her is that one day she will get to perform in her native country of Iran, something that will mean that peace and acceptance has finally come to our world.
Before Rita’s performance at the UN’s main assembly hall, secretary-general Ban Ki Moon told Rita that many revolutions started from music and that it’s a place that politicians can never enter.
What do you think? Do you think music and musicians can help bring about change and be a conduit for peace?
This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Susie Newday of Israel. You can find her positive thoughts on her blog, New Day New Lesson.
Photo credit to the author.