She has been honored with Emmy, Grammy, Tony, Oscar, Peabody and Golden Globe awards. She is well known, respected and has an incredible voice. And her voice is heard everywhere, from the realm of song to politics. This June, Barbra Streisand will come to Israel to sing in honor of President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday.
Many world leaders and former leaders have a penchant for fancy and glamorous birthdays. Former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev threw himself a star-studded 80th birthday party in London, with Sharon Stone and Kevin Spacey among the guests. Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, marked his birthday with an event attended by Kevin Costner, Hilary Swank and violinist Vanessa Mae, who was paid simply to add spice to the party.
Peres, however, does not need to pay anyone; he just needs to pick up the phone. Participation in the birthday festivities organized by the president of Israel is a badge of honor, both for the inviter and the invitee. The etiquette for the event is the same, as is the size of the ego. However, when you’re talking about Shimon Peres, the public sees things differently, especially because Peres is the only person in Israel today who, with a single conversation, can bring people to Israel who would otherwise never come on their own. Peres’ image around the world is Israel’s strength, and not vice versa.
He celebrated his 80th birthday (in 2003) with much pomp and circumstance. There were two days of festivities in which former US President Bill and [then future, now] former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participated, as did Mikhail Gorbachev and hundreds of other guests from Israel and around the world. The celebrations reached their peak at the gala held at the Fredric R. Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. Close to 1,000 police officers secured the event, at which world-class Israeli artists appeared as well as Enrico Macias and the Greek singer Glykeria. This tour de force took place even before Shimon Peres became president. In fact, since being elected, he has grown in stature around the world, and Peres has become an icon and asset. The world, for the most part, looks at Peres and respects him for who he is and what he represents. In 2008, Queen Elizabeth knighted him; a year ago, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Thus, it is no wonder that Israeli icon Peres is the one who managed to get another icon, Streisand, to perform in Israel for the first time. Streisand’s performance for the President of Israel is supposed to be the highlight of the opening evening of the Israeli Presidential Conference, an international event that Peres envisioned and sponsored, in which economic leaders, artists, intellectuals, scientists and technology leaders as well as public opinion leaders from various fields all participate. The woman who has been awarded all the prizes and paved the way for women in the arts in general and specifically in film, will by her very presence show respect for the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize for the political breakthrough he led and became the beautiful face of Israel.
After all, in recent years Shimon Peres is the Israeli that represents us best worldwide. He is liberal and conservative, Israeli and international, Jewish and multicultural. He sees further, the most, the widest picture, but does not want to disappear inside the space occupied by his perceptions and beliefs. Among all the identities with which he identifies and on behalf of which he is willing to lend his voice, he maintains his identity and is true to himself. He remembers his beginnings and knows where he wants to go.
In light of the above, that Peres chose Barbra Streisand is no coincidence. Because Streisand is the most Jewish performer in the world and the most American there is. She is a true liberal when it comes to human, civil, women’s and minority rights, yet remains true to her Jewish identity. Streisand is the embodiment of the American dream in all respects, yet she remains the Jewish girl from Brooklyn who collects money for Israeli soldiers and makes movies that are adaptations of the works of great Jewish writers, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer (“Yentl”).
In 1978, at a salute to Israel in Los Angeles, Streisand interviewed former Prime Minister Golda Meir. At the end of the interview, she asked the audience to light a candle and spoke about the great light to come. Then she proceeded to belt out the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva. The pictures of the Israeli audience watching the performance via satellite and the American audience holding lit candles and singing the Israeli anthem together were projected onto a split screen. To a cynical observer, this was a corny and overly sentimental event, an event that successful Jewish-American artists such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon would never touch. But with Streisand it is passable — she seemed completely natural and in place, as if she were born for that moment, in which the US and Israel came together against the background of lit candles and sang Hatikva. This even is the essence of the phenomenon known as Barbra Streisand.
Shimon Peres would have also been a perfect fit at that event, and would have enjoyed it the same way Streisand did. He would have been filled with real emotion and believed, for a minute, that this was the world and anything was possible and the hope [hatikva in Hebrew] would defeat the fear. And for a moment, he would not feel ridiculous or disconnected and look at the event from the side, but would be part of it and part of what he is supposed to represent.
Why? Because Streisand and Peres are the sane and lovely faces of the Jewish people. They are the voices of reason, of the constant battle for equality, of contribution to the community and of constant and daily involvement on behalf of a better future. At the same time, however, they are the voices who honestly and truly believe in the right of the Jewish people to their own country, their right to defend themselves, the deep connection between American Jews and the state of Israel. Neither believes that the two are mutually exclusive. They are liberal, on the one hand, and conservative on the other, and that is absolutely fine. And beyond all else, both of them, Streisand and Peres, proudly wear their Judaism and say “Israel” and “Jews” unapologetically.
That is exactly why so many Israelis love Peres.
And Israelis also definitely love Barbra Streisand. That’s why almost all of the 16,000 tickets to the performance, some of which cost almost $1,000 a piece, sold out within 27 minutes of going on sale. In light of the tremendous demand, the producers added a second performance in the same stadium, which clearly will also sell out quickly. As far as Israelis are concerned, Streisand is “one of them.” Israel is waiting for Barbra.
In June 2013, Shimon Peres will celebrate his 90th birthday. Barbra Streisand will appear in a country she has respected and with which she has identified for decades.
Welcome, Ms. Streisand. Happy Birthday, Mr. President.
Michal Aharoni is a public relations professional, playwright and columnist. Aharoni earned her theater degree from Hakibuzim seminar in Tel Aviv, followed by a master of arts degree from Middlesex University in London. She has worked for many Israeli politicians as a spokeswoman, and currently writes for Maariv and for its Nrg website.