Monday, November 19, 2018

Israel’s Beloved Ofra

If one mentions the name Ofra Haza to Israelis of a certain age, you will likely see a smile followed by a look of sadness. Ofra was the darling of Israel, with a voice from the heavens, whose untimely death shook Israel.

Batsheva Ofra Haza was born on November 19th, 1957. Her parents, Yefet and Shoshana Haza, immigrated from Yemen and raised Ofra, and her eight older siblings in Tel Aviv’s poor Hatikvah neighborhood. Bezalel Aloni, the manager of a local theater troupe, recognized Ofra’s immense talent and aside from working his theater productions around her schedule so he could feature her, became her manager. After finishing her military service in 1979, Ofra launched her solo career.

Ofra’s first album yielded many hits that captured the Israeli market, including a song that accompanied a movie role for her in the 1979 film “Schlager.” By 1982, she had already recorded 3 musical albums that were all huge hits. In 1983 her hit song “Chai” came in a close second at the international Eurovision contest, was voted best Israeli song of the year, and propelled the “Chai” album to platinum. She was voted “Female Vocalist of the Year” in Israel from 1980-1983. Her 1984 album, “Shirei Teiman” (songs of Yemen), a recording of songs of Haza’s childhood, helped establish Haza’s international popularity. Haza collaborated with Thomas Dolby (“She Blinded Me with Science,” 1982), Paula Abdul and Sarah Brightman.

Ofra Haza was cast as the voice of “Yocheved,” Moses’ mother in Steven Spielberg’s “Prince of Egypt.” In the movie, she sang “Deliver Us” which was recorded in 17 languages. When Hans Zimmer introduced Haza to the animation artists drawing Yocheved, they were so struck by Haza’s beauty, that they drew the character to look like her.

In 1997, Haza married Israeli businessman Doron Ashkenazi right before her 40th birthday. She died tragically on February 23, 2000 and Israel was thrust into mourning. Prime Minister Ehud Barak stated, “Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all.” She is buried in the Artist section of Yarkon Cemetery in Petch Tikvah. On the seventh anniversary of her death, Tel Aviv renamed part of a park on the street on which she grew up as “Gan Ofra” (Ofra Park).

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