Grapevine: Dramatic opening

The theme song for the official gala reopening of Habimah, could have been “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."

Habima Theater 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Habima Theater 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
■ THE THEME song for the night could have been “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head – but it wasn’t. The occasion was the official gala reopening last Sunday of Habimah, although technically the renovated and largely rebuilt theater has been in operation for two months. A glittering crowd that included government ministers, members of Knesset, academics and leaders of the business community braved the downpour in Tel Aviv. But some had trouble getting past a large group of demonstrators headed by Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of the social justice protests that were held last summer. She and some 200 protesters, who were kept in check by a large number of police, still managed to get their message across that it was outrageous to spend NIS 100 million on renovating a theater, while the government was claiming that there was no money for public housing.
The protesters managed to reach Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai as he was entering the huge foyer of the theater. “Why spoil things?” he asked. It was a pity, he said, that the demonstrators had to protest in the wrong place and the wrong time.
Their grievance was not really a municipal problem but a national one, he said.
Shaffir, who led a similar demonstration outside the Tel Aviv Cinematheque not long ago, was unconvinced and declared that she would continue to lead protest demonstrations whenever and wherever funds from the public purse were being spent on grandiose, unnecessary projects instead of providing housing for the nation’s low-income citizens. When Huldai tried to tell her that Habimah puts on productions for everyone, she shot back with a question as to whether people living in the Hatikva Quarter could afford ticket for Habimah.
Protests aside, at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gila Almagor, Israel’s first lady of the stage, carrying a pair of scissors mounted on a red cushion, approached President Shimon Peres, who did the honors. Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat commented that there had been fears on more than one occasion that Habimah would be closed down but somehow the theater, despite its various financial problems, had endured and had reached this moment of celebration.
Habimah CEO Odelia Friedman said that after 60 years Habimah deserved a face-lift, even if it did cost NIS 100m. This money will be returned to the public in full in the form of quality productions, she promised.
The renewed building, which was under construction for nearly five years, has been the butt of much criticism. There are many who detest the architecture.
Others think that the theater is now too palatial. Other theaters have complained that Habimah has received the lion’s share of government funding at their expense. But then again, none of the others are known as Israel’s national theater.
Peres, who has attended performances at Habimah for as long as he can remember, noted that the theater was built before the creation of the state, “when the state was more of a drama than a state…” Perhaps the same could still be said today, he mused, adding that Habimah has always provided a stage “for that fantastic production we call the State of Israel.”
The president recalled that as a youth he had personally known most of the actors and reminisced about Hannah Rovina and Aharon Meskin. He has long believed, he said, that Israel was fortunate in having cultural and educational institutions such as Habimah, the Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute, the Technion, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and various publishing houses before the establishment of state institutions and before the establishment of the state.
Habimah was founded in Moscow but its heart is in Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv took Habimah to its heart. Longtime and relatively novice members of Habimah performed as did members of the Israeli Opera, the IPO and the Batsheva Dance Company.
■ PEOPLE WITH special needs whose conditions do not preclude them from doing some kind of work and maintaining a modicum of independence and dignity were thrilled this week with the opening of a factory in Moshav Even Shmuel that takes into consideration a variety of disabilities and tailors jobs to suit the special needs of each individual. The moshav, which is under the jurisdiction of the Shafir Regional Council, is located four kilometers south of Kiryat Gat. The plant is geared toward some 40 employees with physical, cognitive or mental disabilities. They all live in the Shafir Region and environs, including Yoav, Lachish and Kiryat Gat.
The plant will provide them with the specific occupational therapies they need and with which they can cope. The plant is a joint project of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the Rashi Foundation, the National Insurance Institute, the Shalem Foundation and the Shafir Regional Council.
Among those attending the opening were MK Zevulun Orlev; Nahum Itzkovitz, director general of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry; Eli Dadon, chairman of the Shalem Foundation and head of the Beit Dagan Council; Eli Alalouf, CEO of the Rashi Foundation; Shmuel Weinglass, head of the NII’s development fund for the disabled; and Asher Abergil, head of the Shafir Regional Council.