Anita Davis Avital – the English voice of Israel

Voice of Kol Yisrael from Tel Aviv studios; won a gold medal at the New York Festival for her documentary program on the Holocaust.

Anita Davis Avital 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Anita Davis Avital 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 it.
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 Africa.
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 make aliya.
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 Planet.”
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.