Sabra musicologist and political activist, Michal Zmora-Cohen dies

Founder of Israel Radio’s Voice of Music and director of Haifa Symphony.

January 21, 2015 21:17
2 minute read.
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ISRAELI MUSICOLOGIST Michal Zmora-Cohen.. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)


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World-acclaimed musicologist Michal Zmora-Cohen died in Tel Aviv on Monday, and was buried on Wednesday at Kibbutz Shefayim. Born in Tel Aviv in February 1926, she was the daughter of Moshe Smoira, the first president of Israel’s Supreme Court, who prior to the founding of the state had served as president of the Court of Honor of the World Zionist Organization and president of the Association of Jewish Lawyers of Eretz Israel.

Drawn to music as a young girl, Michal Smoira (as she then spelled her name) graduated from the Palestine Academy of Music in 1947 and some years later continued her musical studies at Uppsala University in Sweden. Over the years she was a music teacher; music critic; broadcaster; writer of essays and books about music and musicians; an examiner of orchestras and individual musicians; the founding director of Israel Radio’s Voice of Music, for whose continued existence she battled valiantly during many attempts to close it down; the editor of the Bat Kol Magazine; a lecturer at Tel Aviv University; the director of the Haifa Symphony Orchestra; and the director and later chair of the board of governors and member of the board of directors of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, which under her directorship had been known as the Rubin Music Academy.

She also served as the head of the adjudicating panel in the international Arthur Rubinstein piano competition, was among the directors of UNESCO’s Israel Music Center, was a member of the Board of Directors of the New Israel Opera and on the executive committee of the International Harp Contest. She was also involved in many other aspects of Israel’s cultural life. In addition, she was politically active, and as a member of the now-defunct Shinui party, served as its representative on the Jerusalem City Council.

Though often sharp-tongued, she was essentially a kind person, and also a fervent civil rights activist. In the mid 1980s, disturbed by rampant racism, Zmora-Cohen together with social worker and Holocaust survivor Lotte Salzberger, founded Sovlanut (Tolerance), which over the next decade initiated many projects that fostered mutual understanding and acceptance among peoples of different backgrounds.

Before that she had been active in WIZO, following in the footsteps of her mother. She headed the Jerusalem branch of WIZO for six years, and was WIZO’s representative to the Council of Women’s Organizations which she headed during two different periods of her life.

She was married four times. When she was 21, she married violinist Eli Goren. The marriage was short-lived; they divorced two years later. Her second husband, Gideon Roehr, whom she married in 1950, was also a violinist, and their daughter Tamara was born in 1951. That marriage last till 1957. Husband number three was Yitzhak Roll, well known for designing fairs and exhibitions. Roll designed the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds and was also in charge of Israel’s tenth anniversary exhibition. That marriage produced a son, Gadi, who was born in 1959, and who was only four years old when his father died in 1963.

Her fourth marriage, in 1966 to then-Supreme Court justice Haim Cohn, was the most enduring, lasting for 36 years until his death in 2002 at the age of 91.

Zmora-Cohen, who was also an Honorary Citizen of Jerusalem and a recipient of the Jerusalem Foundation’s Teddy Kollek as well as an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University among many other honors, leaves a multi-faceted legacy.

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