September 17, 2019

Ofra’s Spirit Lives On…

When Ofra Haza died in February of AIDS-related complications at 42, the Israeli pop singer’s international following was shocked and saddened by her sudden, premature death.

Nearly two months later, at the Consulate General of Israel’s celebration of Haza’s life and legacy last week, people were still reeling with emotions.

The ninth child of a poor immigrant household, Haza was a Grammy-nominated song stylist who wove her Yemenite and Israeli cultures into a rich musical tapestry that propelled her to the top of Israel’s entertainment industry. In recent years, she carved out a piece of the world audience by collaborating with English-speaking pop icons such as Paul Anka, Iggy Pop and the Sisters of Mercy.

On Tuesday night, a largely Israeli crowd of more than 60 people gathered at Westwood’s Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel to honor the late Haza. The program included live renditions of her songs: vocalist Nora Dori sang in Hebrew, backed by pianist Sharon Farber; and Alexis Schwartz performed “The Paint Box,” the song Haza performed for Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Yassir Arafat at the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. “It was an awesome experience when she sang,” eulogized record producer Red Lawrence. “Everybody’s jaw dropped. I’m very, very grateful and thankful to have met her.”

Kobi Oshrat, cultural affairs liaison for the Consulate and a famous Israeli musician in his own right, also lauded the diva’s contribution to the arts and Israeli culture. Oshrat’s career often intersected with Haza’s, including their duet in Norway at the Nobel Prize ceremony.

“She was a very unique person,” Oshrat told The Journal. “A modest, humble person.”

Among Haza’s last projects were two Jewish-themed movies — DreamWorks’ flagship animated feature, “Prince of Egypt,” and the Minnie Driver vehicle, “The Governess.”

Following the live program, a giant video screen presented highlights of the soprano’s televised career, from early black-and-white footage of Haza garbed in traditional Yemenite wear to her feather-haired disco phase to her mature, confident work of recent years. Her appearance on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and her demonstration playing a silver tray as a musical instrument for “Today” show host Bryant Gumbel were particularly interesting documents of her charismatic, unpretentious brushes with American culture.

Performing one of Haza’s “Egypt” power ballads at the memorial, with the help of Dori, was Maya Haddi. Clad in hip, bohemian black with a jet-black mop of disheveled locks, the young singer/songwriter (like Haza, an Israeli of Yemenite descent) shared with The Journal the admiration she held for Haza while growing up.

“I have all of her records. She’s an amazing soul, and her voice is heavenly,” said Haddi, dwelling on Haza’s enduring legacy.

“It’s not a funeral,” said Arthur Lenk, the Israeli Consulate’s consul for communications and public affairs. “It’s about being happy and remembering Ofra and the joy she brought around the world.”