Even for Jerusalem, decidedly no stranger to celebrity guests, a visit by this planet’s #1 diva is a cause for special celebration, and the media has been gushing since Barbra Streisand’s private jet landed at Ben-Gurion airport late yesterday afternoon. She was promptly whisked off to the King David Hotel (where preparations for her visit had been underway for weeks) and even managed a quick visit to the Western Wall at dusk. Tomorrow night she will make an appearance at President Shimon Peres’s birthday bash while later this week she’ll be holding two concerts—by now long sold-out—in Jaffa.
But today, in front of a packed auditorium at Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, Barbra Streisand became Dr. Streisand, after the University’s Senate decided to confer upon her the degree of Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa. After a minute inspection of every detail in the hall by her handlers and the screening of short film, Streisand, in a black dress, a wide-brimmed black hat, and improbably high heels, made her entrance. Her Oscars, Tonys and Emmys, activism for women’s equality and connection with Jewish heritage were all cited, as was her now-legendary visit here almost thirty years ago, when she dedicated the Emanuel Streisand Building for Jewish Studies, named for her father.
Emanuel Streisand died when Barbara was but a year old, but he had inspired her, she said in her remarks, to attend yeshiva as he did, where she received a D for conduct but an A in scholastics. Streisand hadn’t been back on campus—or in the country—since the dedication, but she said she remembered that trip, during which she also attended the Israeli premiere of Yentl, as if it were yesterday. “I wish the world could be more like the Hebrew University,” she said, “where women and men, Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians all sit together in classrooms and cafeterias.”
Lest her portrait of Jerusalem appear too rosy, Streisand said she was distressed “to hear about women in Israel sitting at the back of the bus, having chairs tossed at them for trying to pray, or being banned from singing at public ceremonies.” But MK Ruth Calderon’s famous debut speech at the Knesset, where she invited Orthodox Knesset members to engage with her in a Talmudic debate, gave her hope for the future.
Within minutes, the national anthem, “Hatikvah,” was sung (no one seemed too disappointed that the Diva herself didn’t reprise her legendary 1978 performance; she did sing along quite visibly). The ceremony was over. As Streisand was making her exit, someone yelled out from the audience: “we love you, Barbra!” “It’s Dr. Streisand,” Professor Menachem Ben-Sasson, the University’s President, quickly snapped back. “We love you, Dr. Streisand!”
Related: The Rock Star’s Guide to Eating, Praying, and Loving in the High Security State of Israel [Tablet Magazine]
A Night to Remember
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