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Israel

Nation of miracles creates magic

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As a miracle nation, time and time again Israel has pulled the blue-and-white rabbit out of the hat, offering innovation and pride to Jewish communities around the world. Its 73rd birthday was a great occasion to celebrate not just these wider charms, but the country’s great success in the very concept of magic itself.

The South African Zionist Federation did just this with a Yom Ha’atzmaut online performance of world-famous Israeli magician, Lior Suchard, who delighted the audience with all sorts of mentalist mind games and alluring illusions. Using split screens and multiple cameras, he turned the computer screen into its very own labyrinthian location.

Indeed, says Lior Manor, the president of the Israeli Magic Club during an interview with the SA Jewish Report, the country was at the helm of discovering ways to take magic online in exciting and dynamic ways when COVID-19 hit.

“A lot of people said that magicians couldn’t perform effectively online. But we said, ‘Ok we are going to break the rules and show you we can do a Zoom performance. Not a dull show but like a television special’. This innovation began in Israel, and it became fun to do. We transferred everything through technology, made it interactive, and we make people happy!”

Manor, who has been practicing magic since the 1980s, completed degrees in mathematics and computer science at Tel Aviv University – “like every Jewish mother wants her son to do”. However, then he met a magician who inspired him to change career paths.

He had great success, becoming the first magician in Israel to get his own television show. Manor now works mainly in the field of “infotainment”, in which he is hired by corporate high-tech companies to explain products using magic. It’s a perfect blend of Israeli’s excellence in these two sectors.

He says magic became popular in Israel quite late mostly because “it wasn’t considered a good profession when you were expected to be a doctor, lawyer, or in computers”. When magic did take off in the country, it was mainly seen as entertainment for children until people began to enter the field from a more academic standpoint. For example, Manor says magicians think a lot like mathematicians. “When we see a problem, we look for a different, clever way to solve it. We use a lot of out-of-the-box thinking.”

Today, mentalism – magic that focuses on using observation and the mind – is a particularly popular branch of the practice in Israel. Israelis not only practice it, but have invented new tricks in this field.

Manor says there have always been a large proportion of Jewish magicians throughout history, starting with Harry Houdini, whose father was actually a rabbi, and including contemporary acts like David Copperfield and David Blaine. Spoon-bending Uri Geller was the first Israeli magician to make a global splash. While he is a superb showman, says Manor, there is some controversy over claims he has made in the past about supernatural abilities.

Geller was, in fact, at the helm of another big moment in Israeli magic when he launched the reality TV show in 2006, The Successor – The Next Uri Geller. The winner of this ratings smash was, in fact, Suchard, who went on his own meteoric rise.

Manor says when the Israeli Magic Club first started in 1980, it had about 12 members. At one stage, there were then two magicians’ societies in Israel – “you know what it’s like, it’s really Jewish, like when you need two synagogues,” he jokes, but the two associations eventually merged.

While traditionally magic has been a male-dominated profession in Israel, there has been an increase in the involvement of women and Israel’s head magician recently was illusionist Dahlia Pelled.

Today, the club hosts more than 200 members including its youth branch, which has members between the ages of 14 to 18 who are training in the craft. Within the mix are religious and secular Jews, including a handful of haredi magicians. There are also two Arab Israelis in the community.

“We have a big WhatsApp group, and I don’t allow any politics. You can upload pictures of what you did in a show, or if you are looking for help.”

Another big drive of the collective is volunteering, doing shows in hospitals or for children in need. “This is something of which we are really proud; it’s our mitzvah.”

One of the most exciting experiences for the fraternity was the international Blackpool Magic Convention held last year, shortly before the world went into lockdown. One hundred Israeli magicians, the largest contingent from any country, flew El Al to England, entertaining crew and passengers along the way.

They filled their hotel, and even gave the chef recipes to make shakshuka and other Israeli delights. The hotel filled the lobby with Israeli flags, and the delegates transported a Torah from Israel for daily services.

Manor says that a good dose of Jewish chutzpah is what probably makes Israeli magicians so successful. “You have to know how to talk, how to persuade, how to read minds, and you need to know what will happen if you fail – how to get out of it. A lot of that is in our culture.”

Asked as to whether his mother ever forgave him for his unusual career choice, Manor jokes that although at the beginning, she kept asking, ‘Why magic?’, when she saw I was making more money than a programmer, and I started doing shows on television, then she became very proud. The morning after the show, she would go to all the neighbours and the grocery store to check if everyone saw me and liked the show!”

Manor muses more seriously on his parents’ place in Israeli history. Both were Holocaust survivors, his mother in Auschwitz for four years, during which time she was placed “in the line for [Josef] Mengele and escaped at the last minute”, and his father in the Warsaw ghetto, surviving injury twice. “After the war, they decided to come to Israel. My father was a colonel in the air force.”

Manor’s career in the wonder and joy of magic is surely a culmination of the marvel of Israel.

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