Farewell Brave Friend: Theo’s Last Concert

Amichai Lau-Lavie

‘If I had the strength and vigor

I’d find the words and call them.

With a voice big and bigger

Sholem, Sholem, Sholem: peace, peace, peace.’

These were the last words of song I heard from my friend and mentor Theo Bikel – performed live in NYC on June 18 2015, just over a month ago.

The was of his favorite songs, featuring his own masterful translation of the original Yiddish. And on the day He sang with strength and vigor, along with all star musicians who he loved, at a festive luncheon thrown in his honor at the YIVO institute, where he received a Life Achievement Award: The life of an extraordinary artist, dedicated community leader, fearless  peace maker.

Just two nights earlier, along with his wife – my good friend Aimee, he joined the Lab/Shul community at City Winery to celebrate another peacemaker – his fan and friend David Broza.

Theo made a beautiful speech and ended the night at an incredible sing along led by him, along with Broza, Peter Yarrow and Ali Paris – an emerging Palestinian musician.  lab-shul-gala-2015-preview-lr-37

It was an incredible, electrifying, deeply moving music jam – the old peace anthems, rousing ballads  hundreds of us sand together: we knew it then but not how right we were – it felt historical.

It was a night that all of us who had the privilege to be part of will never forget.

And It was Theo’s last big concert.  His last big gift to me – to so many of us. 

Today I’m getting on a plane from Tel Aviv to LA- on my way to accompany this beloved bard on his last journey.

My heart is brimming with gratitude for the inspirations and gifts that Theo shared with me in the brief years we’ve known each other: relentless, sharp humor, even when it hurt a lot to be, to breath- a twinkle in his eye, flawless timing; the courage to live large and love larger – regardless of age or health or convention. I will forever cherish the honor of officiating his wedding with Aimee – yes his back hurt – but he was glowing; and more than all – his deep unwavering belief in justice – a tireless crusader for human rights and dignity, for peace and co-existence, for hope against all odds.
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Many of his generation – holocaust survivors and refugees, adopted ideologies and slogans rooted in suspicious mistrust and fear of the Other.

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But not Theo. From Vienna to Tel Aviv, London and LA, Broadway and Hollywood he talked spiritual resistance to hatred and he walked that talk – all the way to the end. 

Aimee – you are not alone – I am here, and others, to help you never forget the giant that you helped depart from this earth with so much kindness, to be with you in sorrow and in healing and in life. 

Theo – rest in peace, you maker of peace. 

Shulem, Shulem, Shulem.

 

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