'I believe that among all peoples, Israelis are closest to us Georgians," says internationally renowned bass singer Paata Burchuladze. Wednesday evening, Burchuladze will join Georgian friends for a benefit concert at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. Proceeds from the Together into the Future concert will be divided between two children's charities - Georgia's Yavnana and Israel's Yad b'Yad. This is the first concert of its kind outside Georgia. The concert will be repeated in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where Israeli musicians will also participate.
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"I just knew I would find a responsive audience here," says Burchuladze, who opened the New Israeli Opera in 1994 in the title role of Boris Godunov and has returned to Israel every year since.
"After all, Jews have been living in Georgia for 26 centuries, and our ties are very close; we have a tradition of helping one another," notes Georgian Ambassador Lasha Zhvania, one of the benefit's organizers.
The 50-strong roster of performers includes names that make music lovers' hearts beat faster: Rubinstein Piano Competition winner Alexander Korsantia; singers Nani Bregvadze, Sofiko Chiaureli and Vakhtang Kikabidze; opera mezzo soprano Tea Demurishvili and tenor Badri Maisuradze; Georgian folklore vocal and dance ensembles; and a representative of the genre for which Georgia is particularly known - a male choir.
"Georgian culture is ancient and unique," says citizen of the world Burchuladze, "just as our language is unlike any other I know. Maybe Georgians are not the most hard-working people in the world, but they're certainly creative."
True enough. While the culture of Georgia is not widely known due to the isolation imposed on it by the Iron Curtain, it has produced outstanding talents in every field, from music and cinema to theater and painting.
"Georgia is a wonderful place to live when things are more or less going well. The scenery is beautiful, the sweet local wine invites splendid toasts, and people are warm and hospitable. We love guests because they bring a good feeling."
Burchuladze founded Yavnana two and a half years ago, after being approached by the World Food Program. "They asked me just to put their brochures on tables at the Moscow concert dedicated to the 25th anniversary of my career," he recalls. "But when I realized they were supporting about 200,000 needy in Georgia, I introduced them to the audience from the stage."
The singer says the foundation opened his eyes to the disastrous situation of children in his native land.
"As a result of local wars, many people have become refugees, losing their homes and jobs. Today, more than 5,000 Georgian kids live in orphanages. Some 156 of them have no parents; the rest have one or two parents, but they are unable to support their children. The foundation pays allowances to such needy people and acquires apartments or farms in the countryside. Many international artists participate in fundraising concerts, and wealthy people see it as an honor to help, such as our major sponsor Avraham Sapir, a Georgian Jew who lives in the States."
Since its establishment, Yavnana has returned almost 100 children to their families, "but all this effort would have been worth it for even for one child, true?" concludes the charismatic singer, who was granted the title of Goodwill Ambassador by the UN last November.
Bass singer Paata Burchuladze performs Wednesday, 8 p.m., Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.