Israel Prize awarded to Dvora Omer
Andalusian Orchestra, Al Schwimmer also honored for lifetime achievement and contribution to Israeli society and state. 'I am very happy and moved. This is truly a great honor,' says author after learning about award.
This year's winners of the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and contribution to Israeli society and state were announced last week by Minister of Education, Culture and Sports Meir Shitrit. The winners are author Dvora Omer, the Ashdod-based Israeli-Andalusian Orchestra, and Al (Adolph) Schwimmer, one of the founders of Israel Aircraft Industries. The panel of judges was chaired by Professor Moshe Bar-Asher and included Shlomit Kanaan and Dr. Meir Tzadok.
“I am very happy and moved. This is truly a great honor, and I can barely speak reasonably right now,” Omer told Ynet after learning she had won the award. Recently Omer also won the Minister of Education Award for the body of her work.
The judges concluded: “Israel Prize is awarded to Mrs. Dvora Omer for her success in turning the Zionist-Israeli past into a vivid array of exemplary characters and thrilling events, that together worked for the Zionist cause… In her activity she confronted the issue of forgetfulness and the gap between the dedication and vigor which accompanied the founding of the state and the routine of everyday life.”
Omer was born in 1932 at Kibbutz Maoz Haim, in the Bet She’an Valley. As a young girl she published her writings in the youth journal “Bama’ale”, edited by her father. Upon completing her military service, she studied at Oranim Seminar and became a teacher at the kibbutz. In 1955, inspired by her students, she began to write “Tamar Papers” as a regular column published in the now-defunct “Davar for Children” newspaper. She named her literary heroine Tamar – a name she had always envied.
Since them, Omer has written and dedicated her work to stories, characters and events about the history of Zionism. Omer’s heroes are the founders and torchbearers of Zionism: Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Mania Shohat, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Itamar Ben-Avi, Zvia Lubtkin, Menahem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and many more.
Today, at age 73, Omer lives in the village of Ma’as. She is married to Shmulik, and is a mother of three and grandmother to three granddaughters.. The pace of her writing has slowed in recent years due to an acute heart condition, but she continues her life’s work.
Recently she published a book for preschoolers entitled “Stories for Diapers”.
Thanks to the piyyut
“The Israel Prize is hereby awarded to the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra for its contribution to Israeli society in placing Andalusian song and music at the center of the Israeli experience,” the judges said.
“Its success in making Andalusian music a part of the Israeli culture, heard in Israel and across the world, constitutes a significant contribution. The chants of the Piyyutim and the pleas that were hidden at the synagogues are spreading to many sectors, as one of the colors of the contemporary Israeli cultural palette. The unique manner in which the orchestra includes recent immigrants from North America and from the former Soviet Union is noteworthy.”
Motti Malka, director of the orchestra and one of its founders, told Ynet the orchesra was “excited and happy,” and said the group's contribution to Israeli music has benefited all Israelis.
"We are very pleased our drive for excellence and quality has proven itself. If it was possible to transfer this award, we would have happily offered this award to our subscribers and listeners across Israel. The audience truly deserves this prize. They accompanied us for a long time, and they are responsible for the distinguished recognition of the Israel Prize.”
History of the orchestra
The Israeli Andalusian Orchestra has been operating as a professional orchestra for the past 13 years. It was established in 1988 as part of the Center for Piyyut and Song in Ashdod.
Ashdod’s city hall was the first institution to support the orchestra financially, and was later joined by the Ministry of Education and Culture, which is the orchestra’s main benefactor today.
Once the orchestra was up, it recruited additional players, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union. It started to establish itself as a complete orchestra with a regular artistic staff of some 60 conductors, instrumentalists and singers. Since then, the orchestra has traveled Israel and the world.
Schwimmer: a symbol of excellence
“The Israel Prize is awarded to Mr. Al Schwimmer for his crucial role in establishing Israel’s aircraft industry,” the judges wrote. “A young Jewish immigrant from the United States, he chose to enlist in fortifying the new homeland, and became a symbol of quality and excellence in the Israel’s defense industry.
Under the leadership of Al Schwimmer, the aircraft industry has been characterized for its acceptance of immigrants, many of whom have become international leaders and the basis for the Israeli Air Force. Because of the fulfillment of his vision in transforming the Israeli aircraft industry into a leader in defense on an international scale, the Israel Prize is hereby awarded to him.”
Schwimmer was born in 1915 in New York to Eastern European immigrant parents. During his studies he worked as an apprentice of an airplane technician and went on to study aeronautics. Later, he earned a flight certificate from the Federal Aviation Authority in the United States.
During World War II, he served in the American air force, and received a merit badge for “resourcefulness and courage”. During the autumn of 1947, he left his job and volunteered to assist the Hagana in locating airplanes and recruiting pilots and mechanics to assist the nascent country.
Schwimmer founded an aviation company that bought airplanes at reduced prices from World War II surplus, and overhauled and smuggled them from the U.S. to Israel through Czechoslovakia. Years later, David Ben-Gurion said Schwimmer's procurements were some of the country's "most important assets."
For years Schwimmer was wanted by U.S. authorities for smuggling airplanes from the United States, in violation of the American embargo regulations against delivery of combat equipment into Israel. American authorities eventually tracked him down, and Schwimmer was forced to escape. In 1948 he immigrated to Israel.
During the War of Independence, he served as a commander of an aerial squadron, and was among the founders of the Israeli Air Force. In 1949, at the end of the war, despite a standing arrest warrant, Al returned to the U.S., where he was charged with treason and sentenced in a federal court in Los Angeles.
During his investigation he said “I believe my actions were right, I will not apologize and I am willing to be tried for it.” Schwimmer was fined and his citizenship was permanently revoked. 51 years later, President Bill Clinton pardoned him without forcing him to apologize for his actions.
Back to work
After the trial, and after his rights were revoked, Schwimmer founded an aviation company in California for occasional flights and a hanger for repair and maintenance of planes.
In this hanger he overhauled and delivered to Israel, this time legally, 26 “Mustang” fighter aircrafts, which served as the main fighter airplanes of the Israeli Air Force until the arrival of the first jet planes.
During the Six Day War, French President Charles de-Gaulle blocked the delivery of 50 Mirage airplanes to Israel. The embargo required creative solutions for aircraft manufacturers in Israel. Schwimmer managed to purchase in a roundabout way the production plans of the Mirage airplanes, and even to produce an advanced model of the Mirage. In time, this model became the “Kfir” airplane, which was followed by the planning and production of the “Lavi”.
In 1978, Al Schwimmer ended his tenure as the director general of Israel’s Aircraft Industry. Since then, he served two terms as the Prime Minister’s Advisor for Technology and Industry. Today, Schwimmer is still active at the project “A Constitution for Israel.”