Zaharira Harifai, Stage Giant, Dies at 83

Shir Hacham
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Shir Hacham

Actress Zaharira Harifai, one of Israel's most celebrated actresses and an Israeli Prize recipient in 2003, died of cancer on Wednesday in Beilinson Hospital at age 83. Last night her coffin was placed on the stage of the Cameri Theater, where she was part of the ensemble since 1968, and a ceremony was held in her memory. Her funeral is scheduled for Thursday at 3 P.M. at the secular cemetery in Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha. Harifai is survived by her husband, author Shlomo Shva, her daughter, actress and director Aya Shva, and two grandchildren.

Harifai was born in Tel Aviv in 1929, graduated from Mikveh Yisrael agricultural school in 1946, and was a member of the first Palmach battalion. She went on to study at the Cameri's drama school, and her first role was a chorus girl in "Cry, the Beloved Country," at Habima National Theater.

Apart from numerous leading roles in classic plays, Harifai was especially known for her roles in Hanoch Levin's masterpieces, as part of Levin's 'ultimate' ensemble that included Yosef Carmon and Albert Cohen. Asked to describe her relations with Levin, Harifai said "that would require the invention of new words."

Cohen said of her on Wednesday: "I've lost a great friend and one of the best actresses in Israel. She was such an intelligent actress and had vast knowledge of Israeli and international theater literature. She had an exceptional passion for everything that had to do with the theatre."

Harifai also acted in Ephraim Kishon's landmark films: "Sallah Shabati" (1964 ), "Blaumilch Canal" (1969 ), and "Hashoter Azoulay" (1971 ). Apart from the Israel Prize, Harifai won many prestigious awards for her roles in Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," Chekhov's "The Seagull," Levin's "The Rubber Merchants," and O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock," as well as several life achievement awards.

In recent years she directed plays with Beit Zvi acting students. Micha Levinson, the school's director, said: "We lost a great actress, teacher and director. She will be remembered as one of the greatest Israeli actresses. Her Hebrew was music to the ears, her voice expressed power as well as gentleness and humor, coquettishness and majestic energy. Her singing was a pleasure, since she had an extraordinary musical talent."

Israel Prize-winning actor Zaharira Harifai.Credit: Tali Shani

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