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How Colette Avital became the pied piper for Zimriya Festival of Choirs

CM 27/07/2021

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There is a common myth that women lie about their age. It’s true that some do – but certainly not all. One of those who do is Colette Avital, former diplomat, former politician who exposed the scandal of Swiss banks keeping deposits by victims of the Holocaust without searching for rightful heirs, chairperson of the Center Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, as well as chairperson of the International Harp Contest and the Zimriya Festival of Choirs, taking place in Old Acre on August 1-3 – and much more.

Some of her other positions past and present that can be found on her curriculum vitae include: member of the board of Na’amat, member of the board of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, chairperson of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, secretary general of the World Organization for the Recovery of Jewish Property, secretary of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, director of the Berl Katznelson Foundation’s Ideological and Educational Center, international secretary of the Labor Party, member of the board of the Mitvim Academic Institute, member of the board of Ramat Gan College, vice president of the Socialist International, member of the board of the Gesher Theater. She was also the first woman to submit her candidature for the position of president of the State of Israel. Since then, there have been two others – retired Supreme Judge Dalia Dorner and Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz.
But getting back to Avital lying about her age. She tells everyone that she is 82, when in fact she turned 81 this past May – but doesn’t look anywhere near age, because her skin is smooth and barely lined, her figure is youthful and her step spritely.
Discovering that we were both going to attend a certain diplomatic reception, we agreed that I would interview her there face to face about the upcoming Zimriya Festival of Choirs – rather than on the phone.
Easier said than done. Despite the fact that we were at the far end of the hall standing together at a cocktail table and engaged in conversation, details of which were visibly jotted down in a notebook, we were constantly interrupted by people coming up to say hello. Only one woman asked if she was interrupting, apologized, proffered a quick greeting and disappeared.

Everyone else, including diplomats, was oblivious to the fact that she was giving an interview, and stayed to chat, ignoring the apologetic facial expressions that she cast in my direction.
The truth is that Avital cannot go anywhere without people approaching her from all directions.
She is the second former ambassador and legislator to hold the position of chairperson of the Zimriya and the Harp Festival. The first was the late Esther Herlitz, who died in 2016 at the age of 94. Herlitz had been feeble in her twilight years and had been given the title of honorary president.
Avital succeeded her as chairperson some 12 years ago.
Both the International Harp Contest and the Zimriya Festival of Choirs were initiated by Aharon Zvi Propes. The Zimriya Choral Festival, founded in 1952, was similar to one he had founded in his native Lithuania. Then came the Harp Contest in 1959 and the Israel Festival in 1961.
In deference to honoring the memory of Propes, who was very attached to both the Zimriya and the Harp Contest, they have remained linked in perpetuity, and have ben chaired for long periods by two energetic, influential, music loving and community-conscious women.
Avital was happy to take on her role. She always liked the harp, and can remember attending the first harp contest in Jerusalem while still a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.
The original concept behind the Zimriya, she said, was to bring Jewish choirs to Israel to sing separately and together. Over the years, choral music in all its genres became increasingly popular in Israel, and the Zimriya became more of an Israeli festival than an international one. She is very pleased, that this year, for the first time, there will also be a children’s choir.
At the previous Zimriya, there was an Arab choir that was very well received, with the result that Arab choirs will continue to be among the participants. This is only natural she points out, as Acre is a mixed Jewish-Arab city.
Personally, she loves attending the Zimriya, not only for the singing and the accompanying events, but also because Acre with its rich, multi-faceted history, its ancient buildings, and its glorious views, reminds her of Rhodes, which is one of her favorite near-at-hand vacation destinations.
Avital is full of admiration for Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri, who has made it the mission of his tenure to turn Acre into an internationally recognized culture center. The festival in itself is a blend of cultures, not only in the musical sense, but also in the culinary sense.
Musically, it is important, said Avital, that it is taking place in the Knights Halls of the Crusader Fortress in the old city, where the acoustics are superb. In fact, Avital is so enamored with Acre, which she described as “a magnificent place,” that she goes there several times a year.
Yoni Rechter, a prominent musician, composer, pianist, arranger and singer will open the festival on Sunday, August 1, prior to which there will be scores of choristers singing on the walls of the fortress to bring the audience into the spirit of the event.
Monday has been designated as a special day for children and youth, during which some 250 youngsters from leading Israeli children’s choirs will get to know each other in choir-to-choir concerts as well as tours of musical workshops taking place throughout the festival.
In the evening they will be part of the audience in a something for everyone concert under the title of Anemones Against the Walls, in which Israeli opera singers together with David Zeba will perform classics by Naomi Shemer, Moshe Wilensky, Sasha Argov, Yakov Orland, Natan Alterman, Fairouz, and Farid al-Atrash.
Also appearing will be the Zuli Frank choir in a performance of “Old vs New.”
Lovers of Latin American music will be in thrall on Tuesday, the final night of the festival, where the Union Choir, conducted by Dr. Natan Formanski, will sing the famous Mass Creole by renowned Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez. There will be other Latin American offerings as well, with choirs and audience singing together.
Avital plans to attend every concert. Given all the many activities in which she is engaged, the question begged itself: “When does Colette have time for Colette?”
“Busy people always have time for something else,” she replied, noting that she does spend time at home listening to music or reading. She could have added writing, because she also wrote her autobiography about being a woman in what is largely a man’s world.
She also spends time walking her dog, which gives her just as much pleasure as it does her four-footed friend.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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