In Appreciation: Moscu Alkalai, 1931-2008

Alkalai was one of those great journeyman actors who become their characters, yet always let their own souls peep through.

This June, Moscu and Rodika Alkalai would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Instead, as long-time friend Sandor Mazor said last Wednesday at the Cameri theater where his body lay in state, "Moscu, you died on April Fools Day. We were the losers and nobody laughed." Alkalai was a character actor to his marrow - one of those great journeyman actors who become their characters, yet always let their own souls peep through. His stage, film, and TV career spanned 40 years, and for most of those years he was also a passionate and hard-working advocate for Israeli creativity and actors' rights. Born in Romania, Alkalai immigrated in 1962 and joined Habimah in 1975. Until his retirement in 1996, he played scores of roles, the last being Cyrano de Bergerac. He was in Twelfth Night, Beggars Opera, The Good Woman of Szechuan, Philomena, Salah Shabbati, Ghosts with Gila Almagor, The Magician of Brooklyn and The Spotted Tiger, to name just a few. "Spotted Tiger was my first show at Habimah," recalls Idit Tepperson, "and Moscu was so sweet to me. The show was a hit, and we took it abroad to Moscow and Berlin." Miki Kamm recalls him in Cabaret, saying "he was an easy man to love." Orna Porat, who directed him in The Diary of Anne Frank at the Children's and Youth Theater, also played with him in Blood Wedding. "He was a wonderful stage partner," she says, "and his sense of humor enlivened rehearsals." Leah Kenig says their professional friendship began in Bucharest "when we were young and beautiful. We worked in different theaters but met at a festival in 1957. I got a prize, and he got a prize. He was a character actor even then. When he joined Habimah I was doing Mother Courage, and he got a small role in that. We've done a lot of plays together. It's not simple. You're together on stage for so many years, and he was a good actor, a very good actor, passionate about his craft." One of the plays was Hanoch Levin's The Craft of Life which Alkalai translated into Romanian, and which they took on tour in their native country. For many years Alkalai was chairman of the Actors Union (EMI) and was later appointed to the council of the Second TV Authority. At EMI he battled ceaselessly for actors rights, for better conditions, for professional respect and recognition. Recognizing the influence of TV on Israeli culture, he fought for original TV dramas, "and was an unswerving champion of Israeli creativity and a true fighter," said Second Authority head Menashe Samira. Alkalai's last role was as the deliciously scene-stealing and slightly senile Grandpa Yechiel in Dolphins at Beit Lessin. Hadass Calderon, whom he took on his knees 20 years back in The Wizard of Oz when she was 12 and yearning to be an actress, played with him again in Dolphins. At the Cameri last Wednesday, not far from tears, she summed him up. "I went to visit him in the hospital after his second surgery. He laughed, and said 'You became an actress after all. Chrrrrrch!' and we talked, and then he said 'What a wonderful profession we have.'" A wonderful profession indeed, and the poorer now without him. Alkalai was buried April 2 at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery. He is survived by his wife, Rodika, and their two sons, Ron and Shai.