Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links




Great Artists: The Magnificent Richard Tucker

    Eretz Israel and the Six-Day War

Richard Tucker (wife Sara to his right) receives the "Founders of Israel" award.

Richard Tucker was a great supporter of Israel. He entertained there willingly and freely, one of the few of his time to do so.

Having just come back from Vietnam in the summer of 1967 where he entertained the troops, he and his wife Sara flew to Israel. There Tucker was to appear in a number of concerts in Tel Aviv. The first time he sung in Israel was in 1959 at the invitation of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Between that time and his 1967 visit, he sang in Israel eight times. He was quite proud of the fact that they thought that much of him in Israel to keep inviting him back.

"The Israeli people are a critical audience....The agent who brought me to Jerusalem....warned me that my reputation in America would do me no good in Israel. If the Israeli's don't like an artist, they give him very lukewarm applause and send him home--and he isn't invited back. Thank God, they took me into their hearts."

In his Tel Aviv engagements of 1967, Tucker shared honors with Roberta Peters....The last concerts took place on Saturday evening, June 3--the eve of the Six-Day War. Tucker recalled that concert movingly.

"Earlier in the week, before the June 5 concert, Israel began mobilizing her troops, getting ready for an attack. When the mobilization started, the American Embassy was on the phone to Sara and me, pleading with us to go back to the States. I said, 'I'm not leaving. I'm staying right here and I'm going to sing...'

By Saturday, we were without a conductor....a very talented Israeli boy, Sergiu Comissiona, who went on to become conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, took (over) at the lat minute."

"At the Metropolitan they'll tell you that I know how to keep my emotions under control, how to walk that fine line between keeping a tear in the voice without getting tears in the eyes. That night in Tel Aviv, I was in trouble and I knew it. In a way, I made it worse for myself by singing Shabbos songs and some cantorial pieces for encores. It was so hard to sing those Yiddish and Hebrew words, with all the suffering that they contain, when Israel herself was at knife-point!

I kept myself in one piece only because I had to concentrate on staying in one piece--that's all that kept me going through my encores. The last one I remember singing was 'Shir Hacheirut'-- a tribute to the Halutsom, the Jewish pioneers. I didn't want to go, and the audience kept applauding, so I sang 'Hatikvah,' the Israeli national anthem. I knew I shouldn't sing anything more after that--but somehow I just couldn't leave the stage...."

Though Tucker had to perform in "Andrea Chénier" in Florence, he quickly scheduled a return trip to Tel Aviv. During this return visit, he and his wife Sara went to visit the wounded soldiers at the Tel Hahomer Hospital.

Visiting wounded Israeli soldiers in a military hospital near Tel Aviv,
in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, 1967. (Arie Kanfer)

"In the wards, I saw scenes that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I stood at the bed of a young boy who had lost one leg; I sang softly to him while the doctors tried to save the other leg. I sang for a boy who had played the violin, but had lost his arm in battle. It was all so very, very sad--and there was so little to say, so little I could do but sing to them.

The most haunting moment of all came later that day, in another ward. I saw this gaunt-looking man, maybe in his forties but looking much older, hobbling toward me on a crutch. He had one leg--the other one was gone practically up to the hip. I found out later that he had been in charge of burying the dead, and had stepped on a land mine. When I saw him hobbling toward me, I said to him, 'Slow down! Let me come to you!' I went over to him and asked what I could do for him. He said, 'I just wanted to see with my own eyes that you came.'
Then I said to him, trying to be reassuring, that I was sorry about his tragedy. I can still see the look on his face when he said to me, 'What is there to be sorry about? What's a leg? I still have two arms. I still have two eyes. I'll make it all right!'
He was a fighter, a survivor. In that one man, that hollow-looking soldier, I saw the whole story of Israel."


What's New       |       Opportunities       |       Downloads       |      FAQs       |      Credits       |       Guestbook       |       Help

Copyright © 2007-8. Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.  Image Use Policy.