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Frank Sinatra in Israel“After our week in Hong Kong we flew on to Israel. Mr. S adored Israel, and Israel adored him right back. Here was a whole country of underdogs and survivors, the people Sinatra respected most, people like himself who had beaten the odds… Israel was the only place on the whole tour where Mr. S took a real interest in the country as anything other than a concert stop. He wanted to see everything, and Israel rolled out the red carpet. When he wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee and see the Golan Heights, the Israelis contacted the Syrians to tell them that our long convoy was not a troop movement and to hold fire. The sundown on the Sea of Galilee was beautiful. ‘Another few days and I could become a believer,’ Mr. S half-joked. […]

Most moving for both Mr. S and me and was The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on the Hill of Memory, where all the trees had been planted in memory of the victims. This was stunning and solemn place. The external beauty of the land of milk and honey contrasted with the horrors shown within, particularly the underground Children’s Museum, where each of the more than one million tiny lights represented the life of a child that had been snuffed out. Afterward Mr. S said the visit had made him feel rotten about not fighting in World War II and that Israel was ‘a wonderful country worth dying for.’

We often returned to Israel, which Mr. S decided was his favorite country. Mr. S often boasted he was ‘King of the Jews.’ He donated big money to Zionist causes, and would plug the place every time he had a chance… I liked Israel, too, so much that on one trip to the Promised Land I let Sinatra and [American composer Jimmy] Van Heusen talk me into rediscovering my ‘Jewish roots.’ Why, they insisted, should Sammy Davis be the only black Jew? They pointed to the Falashas, the black Jews of Ethiopia, who were a sect in Israel… So I let them find me a rabbi in Jerusalem, and after a three-day crash course, they got me a quickie bar mitzvah at a beautiful temple overlooking the ancient walls of the City of David. Afterward, to celebrate my being a man… we went to a fancy restaurant and I got so drunk on kosher wine I passed out.”

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Selections from George Jacobs’s tell-all memoir Mr. S: My Life with Frank Sinatra. Jacobs, an African-American, was Ol’ Blue Eyes’s right hand man from 1953 to 1968.

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Frank Sinatra in Israel