Israeli Singer, Ofra Haza, Passes Away, 2000
OTDJH: February 23, 2000
On this day, 2000, Israeli-Yemenite Jewish icon, Ofra Haza, passed away. The singer, who is often ascribed the title “Madonna of the East”, died of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 42. Her death came as a devastating shock to the nation as Haza often kept the public in the dark of her personal life and maintained an image of pleasantness and clarity. Following her death, Israeli radio stations continuously played retrospectives of her music and then-Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, praised Haza and her immense influence on Israeli society. Barak remarked that "Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah [neighborhood] to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all."
Ofra Haza was born in Hatikvah, a working class neighborhood in the south of Tel Aviv. Singing ran in Haza’s family; Her mother, a Mizrahi immigrant, was a singer in Yemen who would often perform at celebrations. Ofra would soon follow in her mother’s footsteps. She was accepted at Hatikvah’s Quarter Theatre Workshop at the mere age of 12 and was often placed in the spotlight of the Workshop’s performances due to her exceptional musical talent. At the age of 18, as mandatory for all Israeli citizens, Haza joined the Israel Defense Force as a secretary. Following her release from the army, she had decided to pursue a soloist career in music. Her career swiftly blossomed as she received several local awards in 1973 and 1974 in music festivals and parades. She received Israel’s “Singer of the Year” four times. In 1983, Haza was invited to represent Israel in Eurovision. She performed “Chai”, which won second place with 136 points.
Haza’s career continued to rise and prosper in the 80’s and 90’s. She began achieving international attention through several American artists who had remixed her music and several nominations in important award shows. In 1987, famous hip hop artists Erik B & Rakim inserted Haza’s ‘Im Nin’alu’ into their song ‘Seven Minutes of Madness’. In 1988, her album ‘Shaday’ passed the millionth mark for sales in Europe, and in that same year Haza placed first in the Golden Lion television competition in Germany and the International Song Festival in Tokyo. In 1992, her album ‘Kirya’ was nominated for a Grammy Award in the World Beat category. In 1997, she performed a duet with Iggy Pop for his album, which was nominated for a Grammy. In 1998, she was invited to record the song “Deliver Us” for the animated film “The Prince of Egypt” while doing the voice of 'Yocheved', Moses' mother in the story.
While Ofra Haza is no longer with us, she has left a lasting legacy and significant imprint on Israeli culture. Ofra will forever be remembered for breaking barriers. As a Mizrahi woman born into a working class home, she had challenged the system to achieve international success when all odds seemed utterly unfavourable. Further, by bringing Oriental music into the mainstream, Haza had paved the way for other aspiring artists specifically of Mizrahi background, to achieve their dreams in what was once an Ashkenazi-dominated society and industry. Ofra will therefore forever prevail not only as impactful on the Israeli music scene, but also on Israeli culture and her contributions to raising the status of Mizrahi Jews in the artistic establishment.