Anita Davis Avital, who died last month, was a prominent and engaging figure in
Anglo circles in Jerusalem of the 1950s and ’60s. Born 1924, she grew up in
London during the war years and, while still in her teens, began her acting
career as a member of the Unity Theater, a politically active left-wing group.
She was offered a scholarship at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
in London, but family financial circumstances meant that she was unable to take
She continued working with the Unity Theater, supporting herself with
secretarial jobs. As a typist with the UN Relief and Rehabilitation
Administration, she found herself attached to a mission sent to Germany in 1945
to provide help for displaced persons, refugees and survivors of the death
camps. This experience had a profound effect on her, but as yet she had no
interest in Zionism and the yet-to-be-established state of Israel. In 1947 she
participated in the World Youth Festival in Prague, and from there went on to
volunteer in Yugoslavia. There a chance encounter with a group of Holocaust
orphans on their way to a rehabilitation center caught her imagination, and she
stayed on to work with them.
Returning to London she contacted the newly
set up British aliya office, and shortly after the declaration of Israel’s
independence found herself sailing from Marseilles to Haifa following two months
in immigrant transit camps. After a few months in various kibbutzim and in Tel
Aviv, she finally moved to Jerusalem, where she got a job at the Iranian
embassy, which included teaching English to the ambassador.
The word was
out that the Jewish Agency was setting up an English-language radio station, to
be broadcast overseas on short wave. The service was headed by Michael Elkins,
who later had a stellar career in broadcast journalism. Anita was auditioned and
with her acting experience was taken on to read the news. She soon found herself
doing everything – interviewing, editing, directing, writing features,
presenting music programs. The station was called Kol Zion Lagola, the Voice of
Zion to the Diaspora, broadcasting twice daily to Europe and South
In the years following the establishment of the state, the
broadcasts attracted a wide audience. In time the station was integrated into
Kol Yisrael’s local broadcasts, and Anita’s voice became a familiar presence in
the Anglo community in Israel. After Elkins’ departure, Anita was appointed head
of English programs.
In 1961 Anita married Alec Wadell and two years
later her daughter Tamar was born. She moved to Tel Aviv and I replaced her
while she was on maternity leave. From this point, Anita’s career took a new
direction, and after training she was sent on various assignments as an aliya
emissary, to London for four years and to New York for two. During this time she
organized clubs and meetings and was very influential in encouraging people to
In Israel, she continued to work for the English service of
Kol Yisrael from the Tel Aviv studios, winning a gold medal at the New York
Festival for her documentary program on the Holocaust, “Return to Another
She returned to Israel in 1985 and continued to work at Kol
Yisrael until her retirement in 1989. She is survived by her daughter Tamar and
granddaughter Shira. The stone-setting and memorial service took place on Friday
morning at Beit Almin Yarkon, Sha’ar Hahesed.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!