October 30, 2017

Grapevine: Presidential love song


By Greer Fay Cashman

In the close to three-and-a-half years of his presidency so far, Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, have hosted or met up with royalty, heads of state, prime ministers, secretaries-general of the United Nations, business tycoons, military heroes, poets pop stars, and even the pope, but they had never been as excited over a visitor as they were last Thursday over French Armenian singer, actor and writer Charles Aznavour. The reason: It was to Aznavour’s songs that they fell in love.

“‘La Boheme’ was our song,” the president told Aznavour. “We were so excited about meeting you. That’s the first thing I told him in the morning when he woke up,” said Nechama.

Aznavour said he would have a surprise for the president when he and his wife attended his performance in Tel Aviv on the following Saturday night.

Abigail Tenembaum, representing the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, presented Aznavour with a special medal at a ceremony at the President’s Residence, saying that his family had saved a number of Jews and Armenians during the Holocaust.

“We are here to celebrate and honor the Aznavour family for their acts of courage during the Holocaust,” she said. “For three years, the Aznavours hid Jews as well Armenians in their small apartment in Paris. At a time of hunger and austerity, the Aznavours always found a way to have food for their guests, and whenever they could, they filled their home with music and songs.

Both Rivlin and Aznavour spoke of the special bonds between Jews and Armenians.

The Aznavour apartment became a place of hope during a time of darkness, a house that offered “a hope for life.”

Three years ago, said Tenembaum, the Wallenberg Foundation decided to honor the many people who had provided shelter in “houses of light to Jews during the Shoah.” Over the past three years, it found and honored more than 400 families across Europe.

“My English is not so good, and I am not used to making speeches. I am better at writing and singing,” Aznavour said, adding in French: “Thank you all so very much for this medal, which is a symbol of goodness.”

He also disclosed that he had played Jewish characters in seven movies.

Aznavour said that today he is more French than Armenian, “but I have never denied my Armenian origins. Jews and Armenians have many things in common, in happiness and in sorrow, in our work and our music. We also know how to become important people in the countries that have welcomed us all over the world.”

Among those in attendance were Baruch Tenembaum, the founder of the foundation, French Ambassador Helene Le Gal ,Swedish Ambassador-designate Magnus Helgren Israel’s ambassador to Armenia Eliyahu Yerushalmi, and the president of the Supreme Court of Argentina, Dr. Ricardo Luis Lorenzetti, and his wife.