Gila Almagor is an Israel Prize recipient and has appeared, and continues to
appear, in theater productions across the globe.
More than anything she
is known for writing and starring in an autobiographical play, and later movie,
called Hakayitz Shel Avia (Avia’s Summer), which began life in the mid-’80s and
is still running close to a quarter of a century later.
25th anniversary performance of the play will take place at Hechal Hatarbut in
Yavne, in conjunction with Holon-based Meditech Theater. In a neat turn of
events, the Yavneh venue is run by Nahum Langsam who oversaw the original
production of the play.
“When I turned 70 I received honorary doctorates
from Ben-Gurion University, Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute in
Rehovot,” says Almagor, gushing like an over-excited, and enthused,
It was another milestone celebratory event at the latter
research establishment, jointly organized with Habima Theater, that spawned a
new and somewhat unlikely artistic venture for Almagor at this year’s Israel
Yoav Ginai and Ehud Hitman wrote a song for her, for her to
perform at her 70th birthday bash in Rehovot, called “Hametziut Hamakbila” (The
Parallel Reality). It was about her personal life, and her stage
Suitably encouraged by her brief but successful musical vignette,
Ginai and Hitman proceeded to write a whole program of musical monologues for
Almagor, which she will perform as the “Omedet Baruach” (Standing in the Wind)
show, on July 16, at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem, as part of this year’s Israel
In fact, Almagor had misgivings about both the Rehovot event
and the lyrical birthday gift from Ginai and Hitman.
“I hadn’t sung in
years,” she recalls, “and I was scared stiff to perform it, but I eventually got
the courage to do it.”
The shebang itself was even more problematic for
her and meant she had to deal with a deep-seated trauma.
“I hadn’t marked
any birthdays since I turned 10, when no one turned up for my party,” she
That sad childhood event, and many others of equally damaging
effect, were eventually chronicled by Almagor in a book she wrote in 1986 called
Hakayitz Shel Avia.
In the book she tells the story of growing up as the
only child of an emotionally disturbed Holocaust survivor mother who was widowed
before Almagor was born. The book soon became a play and was eventually turned
into a highly successful movie of the same name.
It was an extraordinary
change of fortune for Almagor who, prior to writing the autobiographical tome,
and starring in the long-running theater production had, to say the least, been
down in the dumps.
“I hadn’t had any work for six years,” says the
“I’d called God knows how many directors and producers but no
one was interested. I was at my wits end.”
THE CRUNCH came one day when
her husband, Yaakov, came to meet her when she returned from a trip.
was holding a newspaper and I could tell by his face that something awful had
happened. I thought someone had died,” Almagor recalls.
In fact, there
was an article in the paper about a new Israeli movie mentioning the name of the
“I had been offered that part and the director gave it to
someone else. I couldn’t believe it,” says Almagor.
“That really knocked
me. I didn’t leave the house, or brush my hair for five days. I hardly got out
It was Almagor’s then-12-year-old daughter who brought her back
to an even keel.
“I’d walk her to the door and she’d go off to school
dismayed and scared by my behavior. After five days I realized that I was doing
to her what my mother had done to me. So I shook myself out of it and got down
That “work” was the cathartic venture of writing the
“I had to get my demons out,” declares Almagor. “We all have our
baggage and I had to exorcise mine. If it hadn’t been for my daughter I don’t
think I’d be around today.”
Almagor is very much around and, at the age
of 71, is as busy as she has ever been in her five decade-plus professional
life. She has put on Hakayitz Shel Avia in China, the US, Taiwan and London’s
West End. Everywhere she takes it she says it strikes a chord.
“It is my
story but it’s also a universal one. After the show in Shanghai a woman
professor came to my dressing room crying, and told me she’d had a similar
childhood to mine. And the same thing happened in Denver, Colorado, when a
Vietnamese-born American woman said she’d lost her father in Vietnam and, like
me, had looked for him. It is very moving to get that kind of
Today Hakayitz Shel Avia is part of the Ministry of
Education-sanctioned school curriculum.
“I love putting the show on for
children and parents,” says Almagor.
“They sit there together, with the
parent hugging their child. That is something that will stay with the child
their whole life.” Sadly, Almagor did not enjoy such warmth as a young girl, but
she is certainly doing her best to spread the good word.Hakayitz Shel
Avia will be performed at Hechal Hatarbut in Yavne at 7:30 p.m. on May
11. For tickets and more information: (08) 932-0000