He Did It His Way
We thought we knew all about Frank Sinatra. Sinatra the heart throb. Sinatra the teenagers’ idol. Sinatra, ‘The Voice’. Sinatra the womanizer; the leader of the famed Rat Pack and his alleged connections to the Mob. But in a riveting lecture about this celebrated singer, interspersed with some of his greatest hits, Barbara Blum revealed Frank Sinatra’s strong, empathetic Israeli/Jewish connections.
Most of the 'standing room only' audience were familiar with the Sinatra era but many heard, for the first time, about Sinatra’s unwavering, lifelong support for the Jewish state and Jewish causes.
It all began in 1948 when Sinatra was singing at the Copacabana Night Club in New York, A total stranger walked up to him as he was leaving and asked him to deliver an important package to an Irish cab driver at the pier. Sinatra complied without question. The stranger was Teddy Kollek and the package contained a considerable amount of money destined for the purchase of arms for the fledgling Jewish state.
From that moment on, and throughout his illustrious career, Sinatra gave unstintingly of his talent, time and money in aid of Israel, with generous donations, appearances at countless benefits and several visits to the country to confirm his support.
Ms. Blum did not dwell on his many affairs involving or alleged ties to the Mafia, but skillfully wove the threads of his multidimensional fame as a singer, actor and stage personality into the tapestry of his commitment to Israel. Whilst taking us on a musical trip of Sinatra, tracing the highlights of his incredible career, we learned the full extent of this empathetic connection as we mentally danced down memory lane.
From his beginnings as a poor kid from an Italian neighborhood in Hoboken, New Jersey through to his winning an amateur singing contest and on to his becoming a vocalist with the famed Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras, this is the stuff of ‘the American dream: local boy makes good’.
His early years as an idol inspired mass hysteria among the teenaged bobby-soxers. His rising star as a vocalist and actor came to an unexpected halt when he was questioned about Mafia ties by the infamous McCarthy–led House Un-American Activities Committee. This contributed to his fall from fame and led to very lean years. Sinatra scaled the heights to climb to the top again with his Academy Award portrayal in the film From Here to Eternity. Yet, throughout every stage of his remarkable career, Sinatra continued his association with Israel and as an activist in civil rights causes.
In 1945 he starred in a short film called The House I Live In which was a plea for understanding and acceptance amongst people of different races, colors and religions. The film won an Honorary Academy Award, selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in the Library of Congress. Barbara played the theme song of the movie, sung by Sinatra, which became a stirring patriotic anthem during World War Two.
On Israel’s 14th Independence Day in 1962, Sinatra appeared on stage in Jerusalem and delivered a memorable speech urging people all over the world to support Israel. The enthusiastic audience heard his recorded speech with the stirring background sounds of the parade being held there.
He had 100 medallions created featuring the Star of David on one side and St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, on the reverse: he gave 99 of them to his closest friends and colleagues and kept one for himself.
As a result of his support for the State of Israel, many Arab countries banned his records and films.
Among his many donations to Israel was one of a million dollars for the construction of the “Frank Sinatra International Student Center” at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and "The Arab-Israel Youth Center for Palestinians in Nazareth". He made a significant contribution and helped to raise funds for the film, Genocide, about the Holocaust, a project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which was narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles and won an Oscar as the best documentary of the year. Sinatra became a member of the Board and an enthusiastic supporter of the Wiesenthal Center.
In 1978 he was given the prestigious National Scopus Award in recognition of his contributions to Israel and the Jewish people, and he came to Israel for the dedication of the "Frank Sinatra International Student Center". This Center was tragically targeted in 2002 by terrorists and eight students were killed and numerous students injured.
Sinatra‘s soulful singing style was acclaimed by many music professionals. Especially noteworthy was mention of the fact that his diction was so clear that one could hear each word perfectly enunciated as he sang - an unusual ability not often heard today.
The origins of Sinatra’s love affair with the Jewish people were often speculated upon, but one reason given was that, as a child of a working mother, he was cared for by a Jewish neighbor who showed him a great deal of affection and gave him a small mezuzah which he proudly wore around his neck for many years. He made a substantial donation of a quarter of a million dollars in Israel Bonds to honor her.
Till the end of his life Frank Sinatra performed at benefits for Israel, for the Hebrew University, for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and for Temple Israel in Palm Springs, Florida.
We were privileged to attend this memorable evening when Barbara Blum revealed to us the Frank Sinatra who was more than just a thrilling voice and charismatic personality, but truly a mensch, especially in humanitarian matters concerning Jews and Israel.