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.
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.
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
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
"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!
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
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.
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."