Israeli superstar unplugs for cozy Palo Alto JCC show

His fans in Israel would describe Harel Skaat as a pop superstar, a national treasure or, most likely of all, a total hottie.

Skaat prefers to describe himself as “a delivery boy.”

“God sent me to deliver feelings, thoughts and emotions,” the 30-year-old said by phone from Israel. “I have a story to tell. It’s my mission to make everyone in the audience understand what the song is all about, even if they don’t understand the [Hebrew] words.”

Harel Skaat of Israel performs in the Eurovision song contest in Norway last year. photo/courtesy of harel skaat

There should be plenty of Hebrew-speaking fans on hand when Skaat performs an acoustic concert on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Pianist Tomer Hadadi will accompany him in the 290-seat Albert and Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall.

“If the song can be sung by just you and a pianist, this is the test,” Skaat said. “I cherish every word in my songs, so this kind of performance gives me an opportunity to talk, to say whatever the text says.”

Skaat is not generally known for intimate musical settings. He’s most often found performing with a big rock band or orchestra behind him, along with an arena-full of cheering fans.

That sums up his experience in May 2010 at the annual Eurovision song contest, held in Oslo.

The event is Europe’s equivalent of “American Idol,” and one of the most watched music contests in the world. Skaat took his song, “Milim,” all the way to the finals, eventually coming in fifth place.

“It was an amazing experience,” Skaat recalled. “It made me feel really good that people said I touched their hearts.”

Eurovision rocketed Skaat to worldwide fame, with the song getting radio play in its Hebrew, French and English versions.

Though the contest introduced Skaat to a global audience, he had been a star in Israel since his 2004 TV debut on “Kokhav Nolad”  (A Star is Born), Israel’s version of “American Idol.”

He came in second in that contest, but national success came quickly, with two gold-certified albums in 2006 and 2008, and a string of hit singles in Israel. He also has toured internationally, having performed across Europe and the United States.

With his big, emotion-laden voice, Skaat seems born to sing power ballads. But as a songwriter, he has tended to focus more inward.

“Sometimes I feel my own songs are very personal, maybe exposing myself too much,” he said. “Lately I think maybe because I’m more mature now, I feel it’s OK to expose myself in my songs.”

He took that fearlessness a step further when, like fellow Israeli pop singer Ivri Lider before him, Skaat came out of publicly last year as a gay man. He performed a concert in July 2010 in memory of those who died in an attack on a Tel Aviv LGBT center the year before.

Coming out could prove career suicide in some societies, but his fellow Israelis barely batted a mascara-covered eyelash.

“Israel is open, very liberal, and I was sure that nothing bad would come out of it,” he said. “I waited six years [because] I wanted people to know me first as a person, second as a singer, then all the other things. I succeeded in that because people don’t even notice it.”

Like many other Israeli pop singers, Skaat, feels compelled to broaden his audience. That’s why he has recorded English and French versions of some songs (he is fluent in both languages) and plans on recording an all-English album to help him break big in North America.

Whether that happens on schedule or not, he says he will continue to perform around the world, representing his country as he did last year at Eurovision.

“I feel each one who leaves Ben Gurion Airport is an Israeli ambassador,” he said. “People in the world don’t really understand what happens in Israel, good or bad. I talk to people in Europe and they think we have camels in the streets. [We] have to explain to people what Israel is like.”

Harel Skaat will perform at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30 at the Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $30-$50. Information: www.baysvp.com or (408) 530-8243.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.