Miriam Zohar pictured in her home in Neve Avivim by Honey Stollman
I met Miriam Zohar through a mutual friend. I was a bit nervous the first time we met –she being the first lady of the Israeli stage, recipient of every prize the theater can award, an Israel Prize honoree, the holder of honorary doctorates from all major universities in Israel -- and I, a friend of a friend!
Yet the welcome was so sincere, cordial, warm and authentic that I felt we were old friends.
I wanted to find out what makes Miriam so special. One can google her and discover that she was born in 1931, survived labor camps and DP camp in Cyprus and arrived in Israel in 1949; one can learn about the myriad roles she played from Shakespeare to Edward Albee’s Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf. We recently saw her in a comedy, Medallion for Harry. Miriam portrayed Harry’s mother, a role she has performed 220 times and is still going strong.
One can read about her start in Habima from the very beginning of the theater.
But I want to tell you about the Miriam Zohar who enchanted me, the person you don’t read about in print.
She was very gracious, forthcoming and responsive when I asked if I could interview her for ESRAmagazine. I was welcomed into her lavishly modest home in Neve Avivim where she raised her two children and lived with her husband, her friend, her mentor - journalist Arieh Chaim Gelblum.
“Of all the words I have spoken, the ones that moved me the most,” she told me “ were the words I proclaimed when lighting the torch at the last Independence Day ceremony…‘to the glory of the State of Israel.’”
Miriam came to Israel as a young girl not knowing the language of her new country; she came without any formal education and with no training in theater or stage. Yet within two years of her arrival, Habima had enveloped her. Although she appeared in minor roles at first, her talents were quickly recognized and she became a very sought after actress. As early as 1953 she appeared with Shimon Finkel in George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra.
She tells a humorous anecdote illustrating her newness in the country. After she auditioned for Habima, she was asked “who auditioned you?” “Ben Gurion,” she replied! She explains that among the judges there was one with wild white hair, and the only name she knew with that likeness was David Ben Gurion.
Her hard work, natural talent and tender human instincts propelled her onwards and upwards. She never forgets her humble beginnings and is forever grateful for what this country has given her. Her humility, warmth, sensitivity to others and love for people make her a great actress and a unique human being.