Nostalgia Sunday – Al Bano Carrisi

Israeli culture is made up of subcultures that coexist but are not necessarily aware of one another. For example: this past weekend, a very famous singer packed not one but two auditoriums with adoring fans and the story went completely unreported by the mainstream Israeli press, Hebrew and English alike.

No matter. For the record, Al Bano Carrisi was in Israel and if the name doesn’t ring a bell, then you either aren’t 1. a survivor of the Europop Seventies, 2. Italian, or 3. Russian.

But if you are one of the aforementioned three, then the name Al Bano elicits cries of joy and sighs of nostalgia.

Without going into the details of how it happened, last night I found myself a member of Al Bano’s backstage entourage at the concert in Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium. The night before, he had packed ‘em in at the Haifa Auditorium. This was not his first trip to Israel. He’s toured here before and — due to popular demand — will likely be here again.

This is why: Russians love Al Bano’s singing and Al Bano loves singing. In the Sixties and Seventies, Al Bano was a crowd-pleasing singer of sentimental songs, so famous in his home country that he opened for the Rolling Stones on their 1967 Italian tour. He participated in the San Remo Music Festival and Eurovision Song Contest and together with wife Romina Powell (daugher of actor Tyrone Powell) won both competitions in the Eighties. In the Nineties he turned to opera and even stood in for Luciano Pavarotti, singing alongside Plácido Domingo and José Carreras in their Three Tenors performance.

He also sued Michael Jackson for plagiarism. He didn’t win but still, how great is that? You can read about that and more about his storied career here.

Somehow during his career, Al Bano’s music managed to slip through a chink in the Iron Curtain. And so, although today he lives the life of a gentleman farmer and vintner, a few times a year Al Bano ventures out on tour, performing in countries with large Russian emigre populations who are wild for Al Bano.

Yesterday’s audience turned out in all their lacquered, manicured, hair-sprayed, sequined and fur-trimmed finery (PETA has no place at a Russian event). The majority were middle aged and up but that doesn’t mean they were tame. Not by a long shot. Between almost every song, women climbed, bounded or hobbled onto the stage with bouquets for their idol, as is the Russian tradition. And once on stage, they serenaded him, got his autograph and even had the backup singers take their picture.

Al Bano reveled in every moment he had with his audience — he loves connecting with the crowd by talking directly to them — and they responded with waves of affection. He opened with a few transliterated words in Hebrew and Russian. Before singing the song “Nostalgia” he explained that he’d had a long-standing songwriting collaboration with journalist and lyricist Willy Molcho, a Jew whose daughter now lives in Israel. And for his third ovation — “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from Verdi’s Nabucco — he dedicated it to the audience. They wept.

And that’s the thing about seeing a master showman with four-and-a-half decades of performing experience, a true creature of the stage — his music might not be to my taste but just watching him command the crowd was an unforgettable experience.

Standing backstage after the show, it turned out that in addition to the Russian-Israeli majority, (and the Italian-Israeli minority) there were also members of another subculture present: sabra Israeli doctors who had studied medicine in Italy and — as one M.D. put it to us — spent their nights burning the midnight oil with Al Bano’s music on the radio, playing in the background.

The good doctors wanted express their gratitude by taking him out to dinner. He wasn’t able to but clearly, given the love his Israeli fans have him, Al Bano Carrisi could dine out every night this week in Tel Aviv if he wanted to.

Here’s Al Bano and Romina Powell singing their 1981 hit Felicita.

Nostalgia Sunday – Foto Rachel

A new exhibition opened this month at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv: Foto Rachel – Photographs from the Cyprus detention camps. It presents a wealth of photographs taken by now-84 year old Rachel Fisher who, as a young woman, documented her experience and those of her fellow detainees.

A bit of background: following the end of the Second World War, detention camps on the island of Cyprus were set up and operated by the British for the internment of Jews who attempted to enter to Mandatory Palestine in violation of immigration quotas set for Jews.

The Cyprus camps were used between August 1946 and February 1949. During this period some 52,000 immigrants were housed in two kinds of camps: tent encampments for summer and “Nissen” huts for winter.

According to exhibit curator Guy Raz, “Rachel Fisher…was born Edith Kornhauser in the Transylvanian city of Kolozsvár (today Cluj, Romania). She studied photography with her aunt and bought a Kodak camera with her own savings.

“‘This camera has been with me since I was 14 years old,” Fisher says, “I bought it in the city and began to snap photographs immediately, everywhere. At first it was a hobby, and later it turned into my profession.’”

Raz writes, “In 1944 the Jews of Transylvania were deported to Auschwitz where Fisher lost most of her family and friends. She and her mother survived; after the war they returned to Cluj, where Rachel was reunited with her childhood sweetheart, Yehudah Fisher and they got married.”

Together with Rachel’s mother, the young couple left for Palestine in December 1947 on an illegal ship that was intercepted by the British and its passengers sent to Cyprus. It was at the Karaolos summer camp where Rachel set up shop.

A young Cypriot friend smuggled photographic paper and chemicals into the camp. Fisher explains: “‘I needed a dark room. Within days we put up a darkroom in the adjacent tent. Foto Rachel. That’s where I developed my photos. I painted a kerosene lamp red, and by opening and closing the tent flap I set the exposure.”

Despite the makeshift darkroom, her professional eye captured images of people rebuilding shattered lives in temporary surroundings. “People made an attempt to live a routine life. They had children, there were weddings, and even art exhibits. Among the people were artists, architects, painters, and I worked in photography. I made some money and that was an advantage. But every day we waited to be released, so we could go to Palestine.”

Eventually, Rachel and her family did arrive but the photos, many of them only negatives, stayed in a box for 60 years. It was her grandson who convinced her to make them public. The result is a unique glimpse into a world gone by.

Foto Rachel runs through March 30, 2011.

Nostalgia Sunday – Prison Service History

The Israel Prison Service isn’t the most popular or glamorous of the country’s defense and security forces. But the important work that it does was brought into sharp focus this past weekend with the Carmel forest fires and the human tragedy of 41 persons, of which 37 were prison guards whose lives were lost when their transport bus was engulfed by flames.

It seems only appropriate to present a short history of this unsung service, whose roots may be found, (often quite literally) in the jails cells of British Mandatory Palestine.

We will be like other nations, goes the saying attributed to national poet Haim Nahman Bialik, “When the first Hebrew policeman brings the first Hebrew prostitute before the first Hebrew judge.” The Zionists who envisioned the modern State of Israel were Utopians who believed they would be able to create a moral society without crime or criminals.

For this reason, Israel Prison Service (IPS) historian Naama Telem writes, “…prisons were not built for many years and old and inappropriate buildings, some dating to the British Mandate, were refurbished and used as detention centers… Prison conditions were harsh and very crowded. So much so, in the early 50s of the last century [the authorities] were forced to release a hundred prisoners, because there was not enough room for them.”

Israel’s first prison, called Ayalon, was built in the city of Ramle – also in a refurbished Mandatory structure – and was intended to house 450 prisoners. A second prison, Shata, was opened in 1952. “But it was on July 31, 1958 that the rules of the game changed. A prisoner revolt broke out, led by a group of Arab prisoners. The rebels took control of the weapons room and waged battle with prison wardens.

Two guards, Sergeant Joseph Shevach and First Sergeant Alexander Jaeger were killed [the funeral is pictured at left - RN]. Prison guards were injured. The exchange of fire killed 11 prisoners and 66 other prisoners managed to escape.”

“The Shata uprising caused a shift in the organization’s priorities. If, prior to the rebellion, rehabilitation and treatment of prisoners was the central issue, security was now awarded a place of honor. More and more funds were allocated to reinforce prison walls along with other security measures. The Age of Innocence, which began with the founding of Israel, ended.”

Two years later in May 1960, the IPS took part in another significant event in young State’s life: the capture and arrest of one of the most wanted Nazi criminals, Adolf Eichmann. The country was in an uproar over the arrest and vigilantism was feared. There’s no little irony in the fact that the IPS was called on to provide special protection so that Eichmann could be brought to trial unharmed. And once Eichmann was sentenced, it was the IPS that carried out the hanging – the first and last official prisoner execution in Israel’s history.

The Six Day War in June 1967 forced the IPS to conform to new realities once again, with thousands of Arab detainees suspected of belonging to organizations hostile to Israel entering the prison system. ”This new and problematic population meant the IPS had to deal with problems not previously recognized as well as a growing mass of prisoners.”

“The situation was becoming complex…. following the first and second intifadas… more and more terrorists were behind bars… The IPS had to find more and more detention facilities to meet the needs of the State of Israel. In 2006, handling of all security prisoners was transferred to the IPS and all IDF detainees held since the Six Day War were transferred to IPS permanent facilities. The tent camps that characterized the military prisons are disappearing and a new law allows soldiers to fulfill their military service prison guards.”

Read more

Nostalgia Sunday – British Pathe and the Partition Plan

It was 63 years ago minus one day, on November 29th 1947, that the UN voted for the partition of Palestine and the creation of an independent Jewish state.

The archives of news company British Pathe are an amazing way to travel back in time, and see how the news was reported around the world. Here is their report about the United Nations session on Palestine.

UN SESSION ON PALESTINE

British Pathe’s archive include films that are a rare glimpse into what life was like in 1947. For example, this footage documenting life in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv when martial law was declared following the bombing of a British officers’ club.

MARTIAL LAW IN TEL AVIV & JERUSALEM

(PALESTINE TODAY)

Raw footage from the Exodus when it docked in Haifa.

HAIFA REFUGEES SHIP

Of course, as important as these issues were — and are — to us, plenty of other things happened during that year. To put things in context, here’s a roundup of all the headlines from 1947.

LOOKING BACK – ON 1947

There’s plenty more to view and review at the British Pathe online archives.

Nostalgia Sunday – Haifa’s Golden Age

Haifa is one of Israel’s great unsung cities. Modesty being a Haifan trait, it rarely trumpets the fact that it is the largest city in northern Israel, the third-largest city in the country, has a mixed population of Jews and Arabs and is home to the Bahai World Center. Not to mention that it houses Technion – Israel Institute of Technology which, among its many, many claims to fame, begat Israel’s first high-tech park.

But it was under British rule that Haifa experienced its Golden Age, according to a exhibition now running at the Haifa City Museum. According to the curator’s notes: “This exhibition attempts to document the city’s development, from its occupation by the British on September 23rd 1918 until November 29th 1947 – the day on which the United Nations Assembly voted against the British Mandate and for the establishment of two independent states, Jewish and Arab, according to a partition plan. Two forces were involved in this process, the British and the citizens of Haifa, who created the city as it is still known to us today.”

The exhibition has two focal points: Haifa as an expression of the Empire’s vision of modernity and order, and the unique relations between the Jewish and Arab populations. “During the period of the British Mandate, Eretz Israel [pre-State Israel] underwent impressive changes, in the midst of which the city of Haifa achieved unique and remarkable status. This was due, in part, both to its strategic location and to the special relationship existing among its inhabitants.”

“From the beginning of the 20th century Haifa, its surroundings, and the bay area were a planning objective for the British. The city’s importance derived, even more than its local connotations, from its centrality to the general order in the Middle East. The British Empire saw itself as representing the pinnacle of these positive aspirations – the realization of progress. Accordingly, throughout the period of the Mandate, the British intention was to consolidate the infrastructure of Eretz Israel and of Haifa in particular.”

“Thus the first circle of the exhibition is an attempt to reconstruct the linear pattern of the Mandate regarding the city’s development. This part of the exhibition shows focal events and key figures connected with how the British viewed Haifa and its surroundings, its social groups and their lifestyles.”

“The second circle of the exhibition deals with the relationship between Jewish and Arab. During the British Mandate, a unique economical, social and political phenomenon arose in Haifa. Diverse population groups lived together, subject to a single authority, in an atmosphere of mutual acceptance, endowing the city with a cosmopolitan and multicultural outlook.”

More about the history of Haifa during the British Mandate is available on the municipal tourism board site – along with an archive of old photos and postcards.

The Haifa City Museum is located in the former Templar school and community center buildings in the city’s German Colony and features temporary exhibitions devoted to the history of Haifa. Museum hours are posted online and guided tours are available.

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