Music: Frankly Sinatra

The famous crooner’s love affair with Israel.

Frank Sinatra (left) and Gregory Peck talk to an IDF officer in Jerusalem in 1978, when he opened the Frank Sinatra Center at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus (photo credit: MOSHE MILNER / GPO)
Frank Sinatra (left) and Gregory Peck talk to an IDF officer in Jerusalem in 1978, when he opened the Frank Sinatra Center at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus
(photo credit: MOSHE MILNER / GPO)
FRANK SINATRA was an easy choice of subject for a full-length concert, which I recently took on tour across Israel. But when I started researching my subject, my entire image of him changed. Despite all the womanizing and mob-related dirt, I found out something else that made me a fanatic of this man. He wasn’t someone who just liked Jews and Israel. He loved Jews, and was passionate about Israel.
The names on some institutions here say it all, most famously the Frank Sinatra International Student Center at Hebrew University. In 1962, he visited Israel, and made a short film entitled “Sinatra in Israel.” His connection was so deep that a number of Arab countries – some of the same ones that refuse to show Wonder Woman because of Gal Gadot – banned his music and his movies.
Frank can even claim some credit for helping the IDF get on its feet, in an incident straight out of a spy novel. It was March, 1948. Teddy Kollek, at the time working for the Hagana, was quartered in New York’s Hotel 14. He had $1 million, and a problem: How to get that money to a waiting arms-laden ship in New York Harbor? The Hagana badly needed those arms, and the captain of the ship needed the $1 million to sail them out beyond the 3 mile limit and transfer them to the waiting Hagana ship. Needless to say, all of this was illegal at the time.
The problem was not getting to the harbor, it was getting out of Hotel 14 itself. Hotel 14 was in the same building as a nightclub called The Copacabana, a well-known mafia meeting place that was under 24 hour FBI surveillance. A man carrying a briefcase out of there would certainly be searched, and if they found $1 million in it, that would be the end of the mission.
Kollek went down to the club to think. While there, he met Sinatra. Kollek recalled, “I don’t know what came over me, but I told him what I was doing in the United States and what my dilemma was.”
Ten minutes later, Kollek emerged from the main entrance, carrying his briefcase. The FBI stopped him, and let him go when the briefcase proved to be empty. Simultaneously, Frank Sinatra had gone out the back door of the club, with an unassuming paper bag in hand.. a bag with $1 million cash. He went to the pier, found the ship, handed the bag to the captain, and waved goodbye as the ship sailed forth. “It was the beginning of a young nation,” recalled Sinatra, “I wanted to help. I was afraid they might fall down.”
It’s hard to say what motivated his steadfast support, but there are some key connections that clearly touched Sinatra’s heart. In his early childhood, a Jewish neighbor of his parents named Mrs. Golden often babysat for him. She once gave him a golden mezuza chain, which he occasionally wore throughout his life. In 1975, he donated a quarter-million dollars to Israel Bonds, in his own words, “in memory of my parents’ neighbor, Mrs. Golden, in Hoboken.”
I feel that the Holocaust had a lot to do with it, as well. In 1943, author Ben Hecht organized a musical pageant called “We Will Never Die,” to raise awareness of the plight of European Jewry. The program included the harrowing tales of Jews who had just escaped from Eastern Europe. Frank Sinatra participated in a number of these performances, and doubtless heard these heartrending testimonies. Later in life, Frank would refer to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal as “my hero,” and served on the Board of Directors of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
In 2012, the Democratic Convention in America sought to restore language about Jerusalem being Israel’s capital to their party platform. However, each voice vote taken on the floor was clearly a loud “No!” The next day, I saw a tweet on Twitter from Frank’s daughter, Nancy Sinatra, supporting the Democratic Party. I had no connection to her before, but tweeted to her my deep disappointment at that voice vote the night before.
She replied, “Not to worry, Israel will prevail.”
I was glad to see that the apple has not fallen far from the tree.
Yisrael Lutnick, artistic director of Israel Musicals and the soloist in the recent tour across Israel of ‘Frankly Sinatra,’ is a musical theater producer, director, and performer. Originally from Long Island, he resides in Mevaseret Zion. Israel Musicals has prepared an email Sinatra Multimedia Package in honor of the current concert tour of “Frankly Sinatra.” Go to to receive it