Yaffa Yarkoni remembers her 'rival' [pg. 4]

Sitting in her Tel Aviv apartment last Thursday, the day before Shoshana Damari's funeral, Yaffa Yarkoni seemed to symbolize the end of an era. "I was in a very bad state after what happened to Shoshana," said her fellow singer, who, despite being regarded by the public as Damari's foe, spoke fondly about the relationship between them. "I sat and cried. I was unable to talk or answer the phone," Yarkoni said, recalling the moments following the announcement of Damari's death. "I just wanted to be left alone. My daughters and assistant, Miri, sat with me so that I wouldn't be alone. I cried until I had no tears left." While in the annals of Israeli music history Damari and Yarkoni will doubtless go down as archrivals, Yarkoni said the reality of their relationship was very different. "We weren't the kind of friends that meet all the time, I knew hardly anything about her life," Yarkoni said. "When we performed together, we would talk, but we never met to speak about our problems." Yarkoni, whose artistic debut was as a dancer with the legendary choreographer Gertrude Krauss, remembered running over after performances to the club Damari sang at to listen to her while still dressed in her dance costume. One day, she remembered, a performance was cancelled, and she entered the club where Damari performed. "She was singing 'Kalaniyot,' and when she was done her husband told her there was a girl who came to listen to her every night, and who wanted to say hello," Yarkoni said. "She shook my hand and asked me what I did, and I told her I was a dancer. "People always used to call us rivals, but they forget she was already a star when I was just starting out. I couldn't believe I was shaking her hand, I was so happy." Later on, Yarkoni and Damari met again when Yarkoni was invited to Paris with her husband and children to act as Damari's understudy while she performed there at the Olympia Theater. "One evening she lost her voice, and I had to replace her," Yarkoni said. "I wore one of her dresses, which were too short, so I went onstage barefoot, and mouthed the words." Later on, as Yarkoni's career as a singer developed, the two appeared together numerous times - most famously, Yarkoni said, singing "When We Were Children," a children's song written for Yarkoni, as a duet. "Shoshana always used to say, 'I stole one song of yours,'" Yarkoni said, smiling. "Onstage, I would gesture toward her and say: 'Shoshana Damari, Israel's No. 1 singer' - I gave her a lot of respect because I had just started out, and it was such an honor for me to sing with her - I regarded her as this incredible star. Years later, she still used to say: 'You're actually a dancer.'" As the decades went by, both Yarkoni and Damari performed for soldiers in times of war, as well as in times of peace. "There were performances we did together, mostly benefit concerts, when we would share a dressing room. We would sit together, laughing, chatting about her daughter and my grandchildren, reminiscing about joint trips abroad. We would sit there laughing together," she remembered. "And then I would say, 'Listen - there's a whole bunch of journalists outside.' When they saw us, we would pretend we weren't talking to one another, just for kicks, because that's what they wanted to see." When they sang together, Yarkoni said, "the audience would go wild. It was a gimmick for the audiences to see us together, even though they always thought - 'God knows what's going on backstage.'" "She was funny, sharp and beautiful," Yarkoni said. "Her death is the end of a very beautiful period."