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Friday, February 25 2000 10:50 19 Adar I 5760

Nation says farewell to an icon
By Gil Hoffman

TEL AVIV (February 25) - "Shalom to you, our princess," said Ofra Haza's niece, Doreen, summing up the feelings of thousands of fans of the late singing star who came from all over the country to her funeral yesterday to bid her a final farewell.

Although the burial was attended by many celebrities, the crowd that followed the motorcade from south Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood, to the Yarkon Cemetery, where she was laid to rest, represented more the Hatikva than the Hollywood in Haza's rags-to-riches story.

Old and young, religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, the people of all classes who attended had little in common but the fact that they felt touched in some way by Ofra Haza. The mix of people, united in tears around her grave, provided a final testament to the impact of her music.

"The recordings, the movies, the CDs, the interviews, the wonderful performances in Israel and throughout the world among the simple and the great are a living, breathing, and enduring memorial to a real singer and woman," Doreen said.

Besides her songs, Haza also left behind countless unanswered questions about the circumstances that led to her death on Wednesday, leaving her mourners to speculate about what brought the 41-year-old singer to her grave.

On orders from Haza herself, the family continued to keep mum, preferring to celebrate the singer's life rather than answer questions about the cause of her death.

Regional Development Minister Shimon Peres, Culture Minister Matan Vilna'i, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai joined singers Yardena Arazi, Shlomo Artzi, Shoshana Damari, Rami Kleinstein, and Rita at the funeral.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak eulogized Ofra before the funeral as mourners gathered in Hatikva, where she grew up and where her parents still live. Barak recalled worrying about Haza 13 years ago, when she survived a plane crash.

"God brought her out of the fog, healthy and all in one piece, to touch more hearts around the world," he said. "This time, God didn't intervene and we lost her."

Quoting a couple of her top songs, Barak said that "as long as there is a child who has Ofra's 'The Prayer' and 'Am Yisrael Chai' ringing in his ears, Ofra is not dead - she is still with us."

At the funeral, Peres called Haza "a singer of hope for the nation and the world" and thanked her for "making Israel a nation of song."

Vilna'i, a retired general, said he was used to speaking at the funerals of war heroes. "You, Ofra, are the true hero of the culture of the nation of Israel," he said.

After the politicians had spoken, the microphone was given to two of Haza's nieces, Doreen and Aya, who spoke from personal experience about the singer's impact on the nation, and their family in particular.

"We're all here, trying to accept the fact that you won't be with us anymore," Aya said. "In heaven, they are standing at attention in your honor."

Ofra's family wailed as the grave was covered with earth and a pair of Yemenite rabbis uttered the traditional prayers. "She was righteous and her judgment is righteous," one said.

When the funeral ended, the crowd moved toward her grave, causing a near riot, each mourner hoping for at least a moment to personally say thank you.

Haza's music blared from the cars making their way home.

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