Stage Actress, Israel Prize Winner Orna Porat Dies at 91

David Ben-Gurion was a big fan of the performer who played the classics and founded a children’s theater.

Benny Ardov

Actress, director and Israel Prize laureate Orna Porat, who starred in classics by the likes of Shakespeare, Schiller and Ibsen, died Thursday at 91.

Porat, a star at Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater, played dozens of dramatic roles over the past 50 years, mainly in classics by dramatists like Euripides, Shakespeare, Schiller, Ibsen, Durrenmatt, Lorca and Miller. She also performed in the United States, Poland and Switzerland.

In 1970 she founded the Orna Porat Theater for Children and Youth in Tel Aviv. She won the Israel Prize in 1979.

“As a young boy who watched her play Joan of Arc I worshipped her .... Her educational and cultural life project was undoubtedly the children’s theater,” President Reuven Rivlin said. “Orna lived her life like a fascinating play — Jewish, Zionist and Israeli — and we’ll continue to feel her cultural mark for years to come.”

Porat was born Irene Klein in 1924 in Cologne, Germany, to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. Her first visit to the theater, when she was 14, convinced her to leave the Nazi youth movement she belonged to.

She came to Israel in 1946 with her future husband, a British Mandate officer and member of the Jewish Brigade who would later become a Mossad agent. She sought to work at the Habima Theater, but the troupe was on tour in the United States. She auditioned for the Ohel Theater but was told her acting style wasn’t suitable.

Porat was finally hired by the Cameri, where she appeared until 1984. Early on, she financed her Hebrew studies by cleaning homes.

Following Porat’s death, the Israel Defense Forces archive released a letter sent by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to the Cameri's  founder Yosef Milo. Ben-Gurion wrote the letter after watching Porat perform the lead in George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.”

“Shaw himself, I think, didn’t envision anyone better than her,” Ben-Gurion wrote.

Porat, who died at home, will lie in state Friday at the Cameri, where a ceremony will be held for her at 10 A.M. She will be laid to rest at Moshav Hadid near Modi’in at noon.

Porat is survived by her children Yoram and Lital. Her husband, Mossad agent Yosef Porat with whom she lived some 50 years, died in 1996.