Meet longtime celebrity spokesperson for the Jewish National Fund, actor Hal Linden.
You may know him as the seven-time Emmy-winning star of the 1970s situation comedy Barney Miller, in which he played the long-suffering police captain of a New York City precinct. Besides other TV and movie roles, Linden has always been a musician by trade, and still plays the clarinet, touring with a big band, while discussing his life in-between songs.
Now 83, Linden is on his fifth JNF mission to Israel, and it’s been 17 years since he was first appointed to the position.
Why does he do it? Well, it started with his father.
“My father was not a particularly religious man, he was a twice-a-year Jew, but he was a very enthusiastic Zionist,” said Linden, speaking from his hotel room in Haifa. “He was the cofounder of a Zionist support group, called Bnei Zion. We had a room in our apartment which I later discovered was the living room, because I thought it was only meant for meetings.”
Linden called himself a nine-year-old assimilationist for his 1930s-era childhood that included friendships with local kids of other nationalities. But he remembers that World War II, the news of the concentration camps and the birth of the Land of Israel changed his thinking about the need for a Jewish state.
“That was the stuff of my very sensitive teenage years,” he said. “I was inspired by my father and, when they asked me to become the spokesperson, it was a very fertile field.”
Each JNF trip is different, of course. Linden said he sees something different each time — this trip has included the Golan Heights, a first for him — and he works throughout, talking and spending time with each mission participant.
He views his celebrityhood as an opportunity to help his fellow mission travelers.
“I want to make their experience more vivid,” explained Linden. “I could be enjoying myself in a lot of other places as well, but I’m here. I want them to see Israel from my viewpoint.”