Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Wednesday 5 January 2011

For Israel’s Sake, Let’s Have Some Variety – Faces and Voices of a State under Siege

Israeli diplomat and statesman Abba Eban (1915-2002; pictured), born Aubrey Solomon in Cape Town, took his stepfather’s surname following his mother’s move to Britain following his father’s death. A Zionist from his youth, Cambridge-educated Eban served in 1947 as liaison officer with the UN Special Commission on Palestine and was a member of the Jewish Agency delegation to the UN General Assembly. On 18 May 1948 – just four days after the proclamation of statehood – Israel’s provisional government appointed him as its representative in the UN.

His mellifluous eloquence and conciliatory persuasiveness, assisted by his urbanity and command of many languages, proved highly effective at critical moments in Israel’s formative and subsequent history. For decades he was for millions around the world the face and voice of Israel, which was undoubtedly fortunate to have such a spokesman. 

But there were other symbols of Israel ...

If you can’t remember the '60s, you may be unaware that among the icons of that decade, particularly in Europe, were the attractive and talented Israeli husband-and-wife singing duo, Abi and Esther Ofarim. Abi, born Abraham Reichstadt in Safed in 1937, provided the exquisite-voiced Esther with guitar accompaniment and backing vocals. Also a native of Safed, born there in 1941 into a Sephardi family called Zaied, Esther had a small role in the major movie Exodus (1960). She married Abi around that time, and they performed in Ivrit at international folk festivals, later taking Europe by storm – here they are performing Morning of My Life in Germany in 1967:

And here’s a video of them lip-synching and dancing to their big international hit, Cinderella Rockefella, in London in 1968.

Those were the days, my friend ... we thought they’d never end ... (as another '60s singer sang...)

In 1968, Israel, freshly victorious from a miraculous swift victory over the armies of the rejectionist Arab states, basked in a glorious well-deserved hero status; the Palestinian Arabs had yet successfuly to reinvent both themselves and the historic narrative in order to accomplish what repeated aggression by Arab states had failed to do; the British capital’s transformation into Londonistan was years away, and probably not even a glimmer in a jihadist’s eye. After all, it was the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that set the crazies in motion – and which promises to be even more far-reaching in its effects on other nations than was the French Revolution of 1789 if the West does not fully awaken soon.

But I digress.

If a couple of Israeli entertainers attempted a variety routine on the streets of London today, they’d require a thick cordon of police to protect them from a howling mob of usual suspects – unless, of course, their act consisted of denigrating their country.

During the 1960s, when you thought of Israel, you were liable to think not only of Abba Eban, Yigael Yadin, Moshe Dayan Golda Meir – but also of Abi and Esther Ofarim.  They captured the imagination.  They symbolised a nation.

Judging by early photographs of her, definitely raven-tressed, Esther by the time she made it big in Europe she had – how shall I put it? – somewhat modified her “exotic” mizrachi looks. But she was still a stunning dark beauty – in fact, a breath-taking one. (I’m not a bloke, but I defy any red-blooded male to disagree!)

In 1961 Esther recorded the beautiful, haunting Avi Avi (“Father, Father”):

And here she is singing the Yiddish folksong Oyfn Pripetchik (“At the Fireplace”):

Those two videos are worth a look, because they contain some interesting – and in the case of the last,  poignant – photographs.

So – why am I making a song and dance about the Ofarims?

Well, in my very first blogpost, back in June, I expressed my long-held conviction that Israel needs to establish its own satellite television station in order to counter the demonic, delegitimising propaganda being spewed out over a myriad airwaves. I stand by that view. Israel simply must explore every avenue in order get its just case through.

Among other challenges, it’s imperative that Israel gives the lie to the erroneous impression, encouraged by the demonisers who refer to it as a European colonial-settler state, that Israel is a homogenous "white" nation  – it needs to confound its enemies and kindle some cognitive dissonance by opening a new window on reality through choosing to represent itself with as wide a variety of spokespeople as possible.

We have such people as Mark Regev and Avital Leibovich, and it’s a fine, arduous job they do, countering malice and misinformation in their calm, masterly way. But we need a much wider variety of spokespeople, so long as – for this is absolutely crucial – they also speak fluently in today’s lingua franca, English.

The beguiling double act of Esther and Abi Ofarim reflected the dual make-up of Israel: the ingathering of the exiles from both east and west. Today, some 50 per cent of Israelis are of Sephardi heritage, yet the outside world rarely gets to see or hear them – they do not, as a rule, figure as Israeli media spokespeople. It is vital that this situation changes.

The world needs to hear the voices and see the faces of Jews whose families were not light-complexioned Ashkenazim - people who reflect the reality of Israel’s richly diverse composition and whose very appearance transmits the message that Israel is an integral part of the Middle East and is in the region to stay. So let’s see and hear more of the descendants of around 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands, that exodus so conveniently overlooked by Israel’s mortal foes, and  let’s see and hear Israelis of Ethiopian and Indian background too.

Oh – by the way, there’s a fragrant, full-petalled orange-blend rose known as “Matador” in some countries. But in others it’s known as “Esther Ofarim”, named as such on its introduction in 1970 by Reimer Kordes, of a well-known German firm of rose hybridisers. The variety’s name honours the renowned Israeli singer (here posing, appropriately enough in the colours of the blooms, for a German magazine in 1969).

But what to do if you’re a member of the barmy BDS brigade and – quelle horreur! – you suspect or discover that the orange-blend rose growing in your garden is “Esther Ofarim”? Well, you can always change its name to “Esther O’Farim”, as some clueless rose firms in their catalogues have done. But don’t worry unduly. You can still enjoy its beauty, guilt-free. For the royalties for the rose went to the German firm that bred it – not to The Zionist Entity.


  1. I'm in total agreement. A jewish princess, without doubt - but that aside - I'm still in agreement. I remember when Bibi was a media spokesman. He was a revelation. A jew who spoke good english and had good answers. What happened? (Not to Bibi but to media spokespersons with some exceptions). A few years ago, I discovered Klezmer. You have something to say in a world that is looking for something new and with real musicality and talent.

    And yes, those were the days...

    Once upon a time, there was a tavern - but now the taverns are disappearing. Good music, good beer, good friends and good conversation - halcyon days.

  2. Thanks, Ian.
    I too remember the impact Bibi made when he burst onto the scene as a spokesman - during the First Gulf War. It was wonderful to see Israel with a media representative so fluent in English, because the other side had the very eloquent Hanan Ashwari while Israel had tended to trot out spokesmen with a heavy accented indifferent command of English.
    Sometimes Israel has been its own worst enemy in such matters.

  3. I remember the Purim fancy-dress contest at St John's Wood Syn. in the 60's where our neighbours' two kids won dressed as the Ofarim's

    Ron Moody awarded the prize!

    I agree on the TV station now that would be something.

  4. Morning, Ray!
    I remember seeing Ron Moody as Fagin in "Oliver" when the film first came out. I read in the JC that he's 85 and still going strong. A great bloke.
    Isi Leibler (among others) advocated such a TV station years ago and while in Israel the idea is mooted from time to time, nothing gets done. Admittedly, it would be costly, but there's a possible far worse cost in not having one.

  5. I'm a huge Esther & Abi Ofarim fan too. But how did they get so famous in Germany?


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