WITH ALL the memorial tributes for the giants of Israel's entertainment industry, it was a pleasant change to be able to honor a live one - prolific composer, performer, preserver and curator of Israeli music Nahum Heiman. Hundreds of Heiman's admirers gathered on the grounds of Beit Hanassi last week for a musical tribute to the man who has written more than 1,000 of Israel's best-loved melodies, in addition to the scores for some 120 film and television productions in Israel and abroad.
The tribute to Heiman, 72, was sponsored by Omanut L'Am (Arts for the People) as a springboard for Israel Song Week. The event that was broadcast live on Reshet Gimmel and Channel 10 was marred only by a faulty sound system, which caused problems for singers Ofer Kalaf and Galit Giat and for the moderator, the irrepressible Rivka Michaeli, whose straight-faced wisecracks had the audience in stitches. Curiously, the sound system worked fine during the speeches.
The history of Israeli song is the saga of Zionism and the land of Israel, said President Moshe Katsav, noting that all the different immigrant groups had brought their musical cultures with them to blend into a new harmony of Israeli music. Heiman, said Katsav, was one of the great Israeli composers, whose own life is the story of the Zionist Movement.
Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ophir Paz-Pines called Heiman "an energizer" and "one of the most important influences on Israeli culture," and lauded his "extraordinary contribution" to Israeli song.
"Wherever you go in the Jewish world," observed Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski, "you can hear people singing the songs of Nahum Heiman."
The man of the moment was born in Latvia, and recalled that when he was a small child, his father had decided to migrate to the United States. The ship took a round-about route and docked in Haifa on the day the Second World War started. Heiman's father decided not to continue the journey.
Heiman has been composing since he was 16. He was a pioneer of amateur singing societies and founded the famed Givatron choir, which came to perform on his big night. Among the other performers were Danny Litani, Irit Portugali, Efrat Gosh, the Parvarim, Yoav Yitzhak and Izhar Cohen, but the most moving performance followed Michaeli's request to the band "give me a C, give me a C, give me a C." It wasn't a particular musical note she was asking for - it was one of Heiman's two daughters, popular singer Si Heiman, who has been reinterpreting some of her father's songs and who sang a wonderful duet with him.
Once a member of Kibbutz Beit Alpha, Heiman left for Paris and London, where some of the world's top singers sang his songs. But upon leaving the kibbutz, he left behind his grand piano, for which he had a special attachment. When he returned to Israel, he discovered the piano had disappeared. The loss was heartbreaking. Musician Avi Farhi decided to trace the piano and went all over the country in search of it, finally locating it at the home of Ehud Ben Ya'acov, who willingly gave it up when he heard how much it meant to its former owner. Omanut L'Am had it restored and chairman Elazar Strum presented it to Heiman at Beit Hanassi.
IT IS fairly common knowledge that former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who was in Israel last week, writes plays and novels. What is not as widely known is that he is also a musician. During Havel's visit with President Moshe Katsav, Israel Radio's Benny Dudkevitch told the Czech dignitary that he had been in Prague when the latter hosted Bill Clinton, whom he presented with a new saxophone. The two had played a duet, with Havel on clarinet. A limited-edition CD of the performance had been distributed to those attending, and Dudkevitch regretted that he had forgotten to bring it with him so that Havel could autograph the cover.
FROM THE very beginning of the second series in the reality show The Ambassador, it was obvious that the final choice would be a woman, though not necessarily the charismatic Melody Sucharewicz, who was considered by various adjudicators to be flighty in comparison to runner-up Efrat Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was both focused and eloquent, as well as more knowledgeable about Israeli affairs and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But charisma was a dominant consideration, as was Sucharewicz's mane of bobbing curls, which was more of a talking point than anything she actually said. Last week, Ma'ariv decided to show the public what Sucharewicz would look like with straight hair, and got a graphic artist to do the honors. The new Mona Lisa style tresses completely changed her looks and detracted from her image.
Interestingly, Channel Two political reporter and commentator Rina Matzliach, who was one of the three judges and who actually voted for Oppenheimer, started her broadcasting career with a curly albeit darker mop of hair very similar to Sucharewicz's, but now has it straightened, and was wearing it in the Mona Lisa style on the night of the contest finals.
ON HAND to congratulate Sucharewicz was last year's winner Eytan Schwartz and Israel at Heart founder Joey Low, who sponsored the show and the expanded mission for the winner. Before the results were announced, Schwartz stated a preference for a female ambassador.
Low is currently funding a program for business management and law students of Ethiopian background at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. He said it would be good for the general image of Israel's Ethiopian community to have graduates from a prestigious educational institution, and believes that once they perfect their English, Ethiopians can be effective in Israel's public relations battle because they have a fascinating story to tell and people outside Israel are mostly unaware of how many Israelis of Ethiopian origin there are.
AUSTRALIAN BILLIONAIRE John Gandel, who is funding a Jewish Adult Education project at The Hebrew University, is one of the most influential businessmen down under. At the launch of the Gandel Institute within the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School Institute, within the Melton Center at the HU, various speakers referred to Gandel as a very powerful man, but made sure to credit his wife Pauline with being the power behind the throne in Gandel's many philanthropic endeavors.
When it was Gandel's turn to speak, he made the point that "behind every powerful man is a very surprised woman." Among the Gandels' many friends in Israel is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whom they have known for 35 years. When they congratulated him on winning the highest political position in the government, Olmert reportedly said: "John, I'm the Prime Minister; you're the chairman - and she's the boss."