That Time Barbra Streisand Sang 'Hatikvah' to Golda Meir – Kveller
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That Time Barbra Streisand Sang ‘Hatikvah’ to Golda Meir

On Israel's Independence Day back in 1978, Streisand had a very special celebratory video call with the country's first woman prime minister.


via Getty Images

The State of Israel turns 76 today. It’s perhaps its most complex Independence Day in history. Yet, I’d like to take you back to another Independence Day ceremony, one that took place 46 years ago, in which one of the most celebrated Jewish stars in America, Barbra Streisand, talked to the highest profile woman in Israel, former Prime Minister Golda Meir, before singing a rousing rendition of “HaTikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.

The year was 1978, and the advent of FaceTime was still very far away. And yet the organizers of “The Stars Salute Israel at 30,” held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and executive produced and co-written by James Lipton, found a way for Streisand and Meir to have their own video conversation across oceans. As Golda sat at her home in Israel, flanked by books, she was being filmed by a TV crew that broadcast her image live on stage for Streisand and the crowd at the televised event to see. Meir could hear, but not see, the celebrated singer.

“Before it was possible for women to be in positions of responsibility,” Streisand told the crowd, “there was a woman who just did her thing.” Streisand went on to say that Meir was “one of the most admired and respected women of the century.”

From the screen, Ukrainian-born Meir told Streisand how wonderful it was to hear her voice and how she wished she could see her face. Barbra lamented that the technology just didn’t exist yet.

“On the 90th birthday, I’ll do that,” Golda predicted (it is not clear if she was talking about her own 90th birthday, which then would’ve been a decade away, or Israel’s 90th birthday).

The two women shared how excited they were to speak to each other, and Streisand wished Meir a congratulations on her 80th birthday, which had taken place four days before the broadcast. It would be Meir’s last birthday — she died in December of that year, of lymphatic cancer. Streisand told Meir that if she got an important call (perhaps from the current Israeli prime minister?) while they were on the phone, she wouldn’t blame her for answering.

The “Funny Girl” star asked Meir how hard the transition was from leaving her duties as Prime Minister for the duties of her home and family (she resigned from her role in 1974, following the Yom Kippur War). “It isn’t as good as all that, they don’t let me,” Golda told Babs, alluding to the fact that she was still doing work for her country, including appearing at the event.

“Well, the country needs you, the world needs you,” Streisand told the former political leader, who sheepishly shrugged it off.

Streisand then asked what the secret to Golda’s vitality was. Vitamins? Jogging? Meir responded that she takes “no sleeping pills and no vitamins.”

“I’m honored that you’ve chosen to speak to me,” Meir shared, and said she and everyone in Israel was so grateful for the crowd that had gathered there that night. The event included other celebrated entertainers, Jewish and non-Jewish, including Anne Bancroft, Sammy Davis Jr., Gene Kelly, Barry Manilow, Paul Newman and Bernadette Peters.

The pair ended the call with a mutual “shalom.”

“One of the universal symbols of the birthday is a candle,” Streisand then shared with the crowd gathered in celebration. “For centuries,” she said, “it has also been a symbol of hope and light and promise throughout the world. Let us light candles on both sides of the world in the hope that people everywhere will be inspired to work for peace and love and the betterment of all men.” People in the crowd then lit candles in honor of her words, which really are still very meaningful today. Videos of people holding candles in Israel and the U.S. then aired as Streisand belted out an incredibly impressive and moving version of the Israeli national anthem. You could hardly tell that Streisand had to learn the song especially for the event.

In fact, Buz Kohan, father of TV creators Jenji Kohan (“Weeds,” “Orange Is the New Black”) and David Kohan (“Will and Grace”), who worked on the event, was the one who helped Streisand learn the song, calling in his wife, author Rhea Kohan, who taught it to the recent Grammy winner over the phone.

“And so to Israel, on behalf of all the stars who have appeared here tonight, we want you to remember: The party may be over but the good feelings and the love will remain,” Streisand relayed at the end of the event. She then wished those watching goodbye (and goodnight) in many languages, including English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew, repeating the word “shalom” — which means hello, goodbye and, yes, peace.

Meir wasn’t the only Israeli leader Barbra paid tribute to onstage. Thirty-five years later, she would go on to perform “Avinu Malkeinu” in front of Israeli former Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres for his 90th birthday.

Back in 2021, it was reported that Barbra Streisand was producing a mini-series based on Meir’s life, with Shira Haas playing a young Golda. It’s unclear if or when that show is coming, but it is clear that Golda, and their unique encounter, remains in Streisand’s mind.

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