Exactly as scheduled, singer Leonard Cohen took the stage in Ramat Gan's stadium at 8:45 P.M. sharp last night. Meticulously dressed in a tailored suit and hat, he started singing, clutching the microphone as he sang. He showed no apparent ill effects from last week's incident, when he fainted during a concert in Spain.
The fact that he began his show on time appeared almost miraculous, considering the impossibly long lines before the stadium gates. But the crowd - made up primarily of older Ashkenazis - was not terribly pushy.
Cohen's show broke an Israeli record when all tickets for the concert were sold out in less than 12 hours, despite costing between NIS 1,000 and NIS 1,200. The crowd kept pouring in even after the concert had started, and all through the show, scalpers were trying to sell tickets for very low prices near the entrances.
The 75-year-old Canadian, whose last performance in Israel took place more than 20 years ago, played many of his best-known hits, including "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire" and "Dance Me to the End of Love."
Before the concert, an event was held in the VIP section of the stadium for the Leonard Cohen Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace, which gives support to bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families. At this event, grants were given to people who have suffered personally from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but continue to believe in peace and work to achieve it.
Around 200 bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families attended the concert, among them renowned novelist David Grossman. Many other celebrities and movers and shakers of Israeli society were there as well.
Cohen had announced about two months ago that the proceeds from his performance in Israel would go toward the reconciliation fund, after his plan to perform in Israel sparked opposition. A pro-Palestinian group called "Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel" urged the singer to cancel the show and launched a protest campaign. And some Palestinian activists called for a boycott because of Israel's invasion of Gaza, which was aimed at stopping daily rocket attacks.
Cohen, who is Jewish but was ordained as a Buddhist monk, responded by offering to perform in the West Bank city of Ramallah. However, that offer was rejected by the Palestinian protesters. He then said all proceeds would go to Israeli-Palestinian peace organizations.
Initially, Cohen asked Amnesty International to help him distribute the funds, which he hoped would help smaller groups that work for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. But Amnesty backed out of that arrangement, so Cohen started his own charity to distribute money to community groups. The charity is run by a board of Israelis and Palestinians.
During the concert, organizers screened some of Kobi Meidan's translations of Cohen's songs. But it seemed as if almost everyone knew the English lyrics by heart.
Cohen last performed in Israel in 1975. Before that, he entertained Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Israel Discount Bank, one of the sponsors, used the concert for a publicity campaign in which its employees placed bags with flashlights bearing the bank's logo on all the seats. Tens of thousands of spectators waved their hands to Cohen's music while holding the flashlights, in the dark, creating a camp-fire ambience.
Leonard Cohen wows sell-out crowd, and promotes peace too.