YEREVAN, Armenia (JTA) — His haunting French rendition of “La Yiddishe Mama” is legendary, as is his spirited performance of “Hava Nagila” in a duet with Algerian Jewish singer Enrico Macias. In 1967, he recorded the song “Yerushalayim” as a tribute to Israel’s Six-Day War victory.
Yet Charles Aznavour, a diminutive singer and songwriter later nicknamed the “Frank Sinatra of France,” wasn’t Jewish. Born in Paris into a Christian Armenian family that prized culture, the young tenor learned basic Yiddish while growing up in the city’s Jewish quarter. And when the Nazis occupied Paris in 1940, the Aznavourians (their original surname, before Charles shortened it) risked their lives to save Jews from deportation.
Aznavour died in October 2018 at the age of 94. During his nearly 80-year career, he recorded over 1,400 songs in seven languages, sold around 200 million records and appeared in more than 90 films. His duets with other stars, including “Une vie d’amour” with Mirelle Mathieu, and his witty multilingual lyrics — the 1963 hit “Formidable” is a prime example — thrilled audiences worldwide. In 1998, Aznavour was voted Time magazine’s entertainer of the 20th century.
May 22, 2024, will mark the 100th anniversary of Aznavour’s birth, and many events are planned next year to celebrate that milestone. A violent conflict in September between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan has made the rollout more difficult, but eventually, his admirers hope to inaugurate a large museum and cultural center in Yerevan to honor the various facets of Aznavour’s life — including the warm ties he cultivated with Israel and Jews.
“We started to work on this idea while my father was still among us,” said Nicolas Aznavour, 46, son of the famous chansonniere and co-founder of the nonprofit Aznavour Foundation. “He recorded the audio guide, so he’s the narrator of his own story.”
The foundation occupies a large building overlooking the Cascades, a series of giant limestone stairways that form one of Yerevan’s most prominent landmarks. A forerunner of the charity, the Aznavour for Armenia Association, was established in 1988 following the massive earthquake that struck Armenia — then a Soviet republic — killing 25,000 people, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and propelling Aznavour’s philanthropic work.
Since then, the family has raised money for humanitarian projects throughout Armenia, while also funding cancer and Alzheimer’s research and aiding victims of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.
After Armenia’s bruising 44-day war in 2020 with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the foundation delivered 175 tons of food, clothing, medical supplies and other aid to more than 42,000 ethnic Armenians displaced by the fighting.
Between that war, the COVID-19 pandemic and Azerbaijan’s recapture of the area three months ago — leading to the exodus of close to Karabakh’s entire population to undisputed Armenian territory — the foundation’s $10 million museum and cultural center has endured numerous delays.
Upon completion, one room of the future museum will contain the nearly 300 prizes Aznavour received from around the world during his lifetime. That includes the Raoul Wallenberg Award, presented to Aznavour in 2017 by Israel’s former president, Reuven Rivlin, in Jerusalem, in recognition of his family’s efforts to protect Jews and others in Paris during World War II.
Aznavour’s son was present when his father, then 93, received the medal from Rivlin on behalf of the singer’s parents and his older sister Aida, who is now 100.
“It’ll be an important part of the exhibit,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a recent interview. “My grandparents, who had fled the Armenian genocide in Turkey, settled in France but ultimately wanted to go to the U.S. And when they saw what was happening to the Jews, they could not stay idle.”
That compassion is what led the family to shelter Jewish acquaintances in their small, three-room apartment at 22 rue de Navarin, in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. The eventual museum will consist of 10 rooms, taking visitors on a journey that begins with the Armenian genocide and continues with Aznavour’s early life in Paris.
“We want to tell the story of their resistance, how they helped not only Jews but also Armenian soldiers who were recruited by the Germans against their will,” said Tatev Sargsyan, chief operating officer of the Aznavour Foundation. “His father worked in a restaurant where the Nazis visited.”
According to a 2016 book by Israeli researcher Yair Auron, “Righteous Saviors and Fighters,” Aznavour and his sister would help burn the Nazi uniforms of Armenian deserters and dispose of the ashes. They also hid members of a French underground resistance movement who were being pursued by the Gestapo — something the modest Aznavour rarely talked about.
“It’ll be more of an immersive experience — something that you feel rather than just see,” Nicolas Aznavour said of the planned 32,000-square-foot museum. Hundreds of artifacts besides the medals and awards will be displayed, including Aznavour’s clothing, his favorite sunglasses and dozens of posters advertising movies in which he starred. (Among them: “The Tin Drum,” a 1979 German thriller in which Aznavour plays a kind Jewish toy vendor who kills himself after the Nazis vandalize his store and burn down the local synagogue.)
“Aznavour didn’t want this to be just a museum commemorating himself. He wanted it to be a cultural and educational center,” said Sargsyan. “He always spoke about the importance of empowering youth because he had so few opportunities when he was starting out in Paris. The idea is to create a platform for local musicians, and the museum is just one of the components.”
The foundation has formed a partnership with the French government to establish a French Institute within the future center, which will offer a wide range of cultural and educational activities. Among other things, there will be music lessons with hands-on experience in a recording studio. Artists will have the opportunity to perform live on stage.
In addition, experts will teach courses in film, theater and production. These classes will include film screening, featuring some of the 90 movies in which Aznavour himself starred.
Aznavour’s music remains immensely popular not only in France and other francophone countries such as Belgium, Canada, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia, but also in Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Japan, Russia and, of course, at home.
“Aznavour is a national treasure for the Armenian people,” said Lilit Papikyan, human resources manager at DataArt, a Yerevan software company. “His music evokes feelings of nostalgia, longing and pride in the hearts of all Armenians, both here and in the diaspora.”
Last April, the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva renamed a municipal park after Aznavour, in the presence of Mayor Rami Greenberg and Arman Hakobian — Armenia’s ambassador to Israel — as well as officials of the French Embassy and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
“During World War II, the Aznavourian family saved numerous Jewish lives,” said community leader Artiom Chernamorian, founder of a nonprofit group called Nairi Union of Armenians in Petah Tikva. The suburb which is home to a sizable Armenian ethnic community. “This gesture symbolizes the unbreakable bond between the Armenian and Jewish people, two nations that have endured unspeakable tragedy.”
Yet the influential singer wasn’t shy about calling out his Jewish friends over Israel’s refusal to officially recognize the Ottoman Turkish genocide of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. Nor did he hold back criticism of Israel’s growing friendship with energy-rich Azerbaijan, which since 1993 has been ruled by the Aliyev family dynasty and is home to some 15,000 Jews.
This past March, amid warming ties between Israel and Turkey, Azerbaijan opened an embassy in Tel Aviv, becoming the first Muslim Shiite country to do so. The two now enjoy extensive economic links: Azerbaijan supplies over half of Israel’s crude oil imports and has also become its top buyer of weapons after India, a fact that clearly pains the younger Aznavour.
In early October, four days before the Hamas massacre of 1,200 Israelis sparked the current war in Gaza, vandals protesting Israel’s alliance with Azerbaijan desecrated Armenia’s only synagogue. They later posted on social media that “Jews are the enemies of the Armenian nation, complicit in Turkish crimes.” No arrests were made.
“I think it’s a complex situation,” Nicholas Aznavour told JTA. “We have friends who totally support recognition of the Armenian genocide. But more than the Turkish reaction, there’s a political reality, and the reality is that the interests of Israel align with those of Azerbaijan.”
Politics aside, that’s a “dangerous compromise,” he warned. “In the long term, it’s a bad strategy, because when you align yourself with dictatorships, it’s like putting one foot in the grave.”
The post French crooner Charles Aznavour loved Jews. A new museum in Armenia will tell that story. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Together, We Are Winning
JNS.org – It’s challenging to remember life in Israel before the Simchat Torah massacre of Oct. 7., but it’s possible. We can remember the horrid Yom Kippur, just 12 days before the massacre, that required police to control and then stop a prayer service. For over a year beforehand, Israelis were at each other’s throats over proposed judicial reforms. Lines were drawn between right and left, religious and secular, north and south, the center and the periphery.
On Oct. 7, however, we realized that in a divided society everyone is distracted from keeping us safe and secure. Hamas saw an opening and took advantage of it.
Since Oct. 7, Israel changed in many ways. Most importantly, it changed from a divided to a united nation. Israelis from all walks of life came together to serve in IDF reserve units, send supplies to soldiers and refugees, and pray together in mass gatherings.
In early November, an iconic photo went viral on Israeli social media. It showed attorney Ran Bar-Yoshafat, the vice president of the Kohelet Policy Forum that advocated for judicial reform, standing with his arm over the shoulder of Gideon Segev, an activist with Brothers in Arms, the lead organization opposing judicial reform. They were both dressed in their IDF uniforms, rifles slung from their shoulders. They were united against Israel’s enemies.
This unity was refreshing and inspiring. Over multiple elections over the last several years, Israel’s political polarization seemed irreparable. Yet the impossible occurred: Politics gave way to unity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz even set aside their differences and created a landmark agreement to establish an emergency wartime government. Almost all Israeli politicians refused to play the blame game and focused on fighting the enemy together.
The war isn’t over yet, but the question of whether Israel can win is no longer being asked. It’s clear that Israel isn’t just winning the war; it’s crushing the enemy. The IDF has killed over 12,000 Hamas terrorists. Over 70% of Hamas’s fighting force has been demolished. There are few Hamas strongholds left and its leaders are on the run. Israel’s soldiers have experienced unprecedented success.
Israel isn’t only winning on the battlefield; it’s winning the diplomatic war as well. It has successfully staved off the usual demands for an immediate ceasefire. It has also won in the courts. South Africa’s charge of genocide and its request for a court order stopping Israel’s military operations were rejected by the International Court of Justice. There is bipartisan support for Israel in the U.S. Congress, with more than 20 Senate Republicans crossing party lines to vote for a Democratic bill that will help fund Israel’s war effort.
Just as Israel’s division resulted in its devastating losses on Oct. 7, its newborn unity has resulted in its military success. A unified nation is no longer distracted by the divisions that weaken it. It can focus its efforts, energies and resources on the country’s safety and security. Its leaders, soldiers and citizens can focus on preserving the nation’s values. It is strong.
It’s unfortunate that such a devastating tragedy was necessary to unite the people of Israel. It would be easy to allow regret to overcome the nation. Instead, it’s time for the Jewish people to redouble their efforts to preserve our newfound unity.
It won’t be long before Israel’s leaders and the IDF declare victory over Israel’s enemies and the end of the war. There will be celebrations of victory and memorials for the heroes we lost. The post-war recovery will be shortened by convening commissions of inquiry and holding new elections. That is when the Israeli people must apply the lessons of Oct. 7.
If Israel has learned its lesson, it will come together and hold a civilized election while maintaining its essential unity. Thus, Israel will remain strong and secure. But if Israel hasn’t learned its lesson and unity dissipates, it will be weakened and less secure.
To avoid this, the Israeli people must incorporate the lesson of unity into their national soul and ensure that it remains eternal.
A Strong Europe Benefits the US and Israel
JNS.org – When former President Donald Trump speaks, exploding heads tend to follow, often for good reason. His recent comments about NATO, saying he would not protect European countries that do not pay their dues to the alliance, set off alarm bells at home and across the Atlantic. In the case of Trump, however, one can despise the messenger and recognize that his message has some merit.
At a recent rally in South Carolina, Trump caused chaos by speaking of a conversation he had with a foreign leader when he was president. Trump claimed he told the leader that not only would he “not protect” NATO members that are delinquent in their payments or fail to meet their defense spending requirements, but he would also encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” with them.
European Council President Charles Michel responded by saying that Trump’s statements “serve only Putin’s interest.” Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg said, “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S.”
These are valid concerns and point to real consequences that could result if Trump’s words become U.S. policy.
At the same time, however, Michel himself acknowledged that Trump’s statements underscore the importance of European investment in the continent’s “nascent efforts” to strengthen its “strategic autonomy” and defense capabilities. European nations have already started that process and well they should.
According to a 2023 NATO report, Russian and Chinese defense spending has increased 277% and 566% respectively since 2000, while European investment remained flat. Despite signing the 2014 Defense Investment Pledge following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, only two of the top five European NATO allies—Poland and the United Kingdom—kept their promise to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. According to 2023 estimates, they spent 3.9% and 2.07% respectively. Only 11 of the 31 NATO countries are expected to meet their defense obligations in 2024.
However, there has been some movement on this issue. Germany will reach its goal of spending 2% of its GDP on defense in 2024 and the E.U. has pledged $54 billion to Ukraine, relieving the United States of some of the aid burden.
The existing NATO-based global security apparatus can be understood as a triangle with the U.S. at the peak and NATO allies together with Israel forming a narrow foundation. Such a triangle is highly unstable. Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s ongoing power plays and Iran’s malign behavior are proof of this.
The United States, Europe, Israel and all Western-aligned countries are better off with a militarily strong Europe. After decades of neglect, European nations must refortify their military capabilities and reassess their strategic partnerships in key areas such as defense, energy, security, supply chains of essential goods and technology.
European nations that understand this have been forging a deeper and broader relationship with Israel. Germany is now Israel’s largest defense trading partner and has acquired the Arrow missile-defense system.
Led by Poland, Central and Eastern European nations that fear Russian aggression are aligning with Israel due to shared strategic interests. European nations are looking to friendshore essential goods to Israel and the other Abraham Accords countries. There’s hope that Saudi Arabia won’t be too far behind.
What does all this mean for the Western alliance and the United States?
Assuming America maintains its status as the top military power in the world, it will remain at the peak of the global security triangle. However, if Europe and Israel align their strategic interests and invest commensurately in their respective defense and security capabilities, the base of the triangle widens, creating a more stable triad that can better withstand and confront global instability.
Moreover, strengthening Europe and Israel strategically and militarily reduces the burden on the United States.
Trump is often his own worst enemy, relying on over-the-top and insolent rhetoric as his preferred means of persuasion. In this case, however, his language, as outlandish as many consider it to be, contained an important warning.
That is, there may come a day when Europe can no longer depend on the United States to protect it. As a result, European leaders need to look after their own countries’ national interests.
At Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, IDF Achieves War Goals with Precision
JNS.org – On Feb. 15, the IDF announced formally that it had begun operating in Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, which like every other medical, educational and civilian site in Gaza served as a Hamas military hub.
As IDF special forces entered the complex, some 200 Hamas members surrendered without firing a shot.
The IDF began the operation with a call to the hospital’s director from Col. Moshe Tetro, head of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, who is responsible for the IDF’s humanitarian efforts throughout the war.
“In the past month, the IDF has asked the residents of Khan Yunis to evacuate to safer areas, in the humanitarian areas of Al-Mawasi [in southern Gaza] and Deir al-Balah [in central Gaza]. We have information that proves that the Hamas terrorist organization is continuing its military activity in the Nasser hospital compound, and that the compound was used to hold Israeli hostages,” Tetro told the director.
Tetro called on Hamas to exit the site, as well as for thousands of Gazan civilians who had set up camp in and around the hospital to leave.
Speaking to journalists last week, Tetro said the Nasser operation was “inevitable, since Hamas repeatedly and systematically uses hospitals for their terrorist activities.”
Out of an estimated 10,500 Gazan civilians in the compound, the IDF evacuated around 8,000 before forces entered, Tetro assessed.
Once Israeli forces entered the hospital, he said, the IDF continued to work with medical staff to protect patients and move them out of combat zones. A “large amount” of water and food, including baby food, was also delivered by the IDF to those remaining in the facility, he said.
The IDF was in “close touch” with hospital staff regarding medical supplies, “and it is our understanding that there is no shortage of medical supplies at the moment,” he said.
During the operation, the hospital also received a generator from the IDF to ensure continued power supply to the Intensive Care Unit.
On Saturday, Feb. 23, a fault unrelated to the IDF operations was discovered in the hospital’s electrical infrastructure, and the IDF has brought in technicians to address it, said Tetro.
“Finally, in the days since the operation we have coordinated several convoys of ambulances and assisted in transferring patients… to more suitable places to receive treatments,” he said.
The IDF’s raid on Nasser hospital would have likely been considered impossible by many observers prior to the launch of Israel’s ground operation in Gaza on Oct. 27.
Yet today, it has become the norm, and with roughly three-quarters of Gaza under IDF control, the military has demonstrated that despite predictions of doom, it can operate in the most challenging urban warfare environment in the world.
With more than 10,000 Hamas terrorists killed and several thousand more injured, and growing numbers of key Hamas tunnels taken out of commission (the military does not seek to destroy every tunnel under Gaza), the IDF has removed roughly half of Hamas’s terror army from the battlefield, including tens of Hamas battalion and company commanders.
The IDF is gradually moving into the more targeted mopping-up phase in the north and central Gaza. While there will always be terrorists in Gaza, the IDF is steadily achieving Israel’s war aim of shattering Hamas as an organized terror army and subsequently, as a political regime.
Despite the vast complexities of waging war in the Strip, the IDF has demonstrated that it has developed the tools to make consistent progress, while ensuring humanitarian supply lines and fully observing international laws of war.
Addressing the issue of humanitarian aid trucks entering Gaza, Tetro said that on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom Crossing, there are “more than 450 trucks waiting for the international organizations to take the goods and to distribute them inside Gaza. We are ready and willing to facilitate the entrance of tens, if not hundreds of trucks every day.”
He added, “Unfortunately, today and yesterday, the United Nations didn’t show up to work. So as you probably have heard me say before, the bottleneck is not the Israeli side.”
The post At Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, IDF Achieves War Goals with Precision first appeared on Algemeiner.com.