January 16, 2019

Ronit Elkabetz, actress, director, cultural ambassador, dies at 51

Ronit Elkabetz, one of Israel’s most admired and influential actresses, died April 19 after a private battle with cancer. She was 51.

Elkabetz’s versatility, beauty and magnetism were noted in 2008 by the New York Times, which dubbed her “Israel’s Meryl Streep.”

Born in Beersheba, daughter of Moroccan immigrants, Elkabetz served as a role model and inspiration for Israeli women, particularly those of North African and Sephardic heritage.

Shimon Peres, Israel’s former president, lauded Elkabetz as “an extraordinary cultural ambassador for the State of Israel…who represented the citizens and State of Israel with great pride, energy and beauty.”

In “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,’ her last and arguably most influential film, Elkabetz portrayed a woman seeking a divorce from her Orthodox husband, only to be frustrated again and again by a rabbinical court.

In a feature in the Jewish Journal, contributor Ella Taylor wrote of Elkabetz’s “unforgettable face…her throaty Sephardic voice, the black hair, burning eyes and bone structure to die for.”

Elkabetz co-wrote and directed “Gett” with her brother Shlomi, and in her role “is stubborn, majestic and seething with barely suppressed rage,” Taylor wrote.

In this and other roles, Elkabetz ”pushed Sephardi women to the forefront,” according to the Haaretz newspaper. Miri Regev, Israel’s culture and sports minister eulogized Elkabetz as “an example and a social conscience on painful, sensitive issues in Israeli and Jewish society.”

After working as a model, Elkabetz started her movie career in 1990. She first gained international recognition in 2007 with “The Band’s Visit,” in which she played a feisty restaurant owner in a small Negev town.

During her career, Elkabetz won three Ophirs, Israel’s equivalent to the Oscar, and in 2014 “Gett” won a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign-language film.

Elkabetz is survived by her husband, architect Avner Yashar, 4-year-old twin sons, her parents and three brothers.