Israeli singer Gali Atari made history when she performed “Hallelujah” in Eurovision 1979 with Milk & Honey, making Israel the third country in Eurovision history to win the contest twice in a row. She has since become one of Israel’s most influential and successful singers and actresses, still going strong after a career that has spanned more than 4 decades.
Born Avigayil Atari in Rehovot, Israel, Gali was the youngest among the 7 children of Jewish immigrants from Yemen. One of her sisters, Yona, was also a singer and actress, and another, Shosh, was a radio announcer. Tragically, the Gali’s father died when she was only 4.
Gali took a MyHeritage DNA test to learn more about her origins, and researchers at MyHeritage took a look at the historical records to glean more information about her family history. Here’s what we found.
MyHeritage DNA Results
According to Gali’s DNA results, she is 97.8% Yemenite Jewish and 2.2% Ashkenazi Jewish.
Name Origin and the Winds of Change
The Atari Clan as we know it today originated in a village called Idka with Salem and Miryan Nahari—Nahari being the original name of the family. Somewhere in the early 1800’s, after a family dispute, Salem and his wife decided to leave and settle in the city of Atar in Yemen.
The family name changed to Atar (Hebrew spelling עתאר). As the years went by, the name was slightly altered and became Atari (in Hebrew spelling עטרי).
Young Love in Durhan
Itzhak Atari, Gali’s grandfather, was a coffee merchant traveled among the distant communities of Yemen. His son Shalom, joined him on one of his business trips. They reached the village of Durhan as the sun set on Friday evening—marking the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath—and they joined the festive Sabbath evening prayers in the village. As it turned out, Itzhak was not only a capable merchant, but also a very talented cantor. Mesmerized by his voice, the community asked him to perform the reading of the Torah during the services, which was an honor and a privilege. The Ya’akobi family invited him to stay the night. That’s where 16-year-old Shalom met Naomi, the 14-year-old daughter of the Ya’akobi family. The two fell in love, and Shalom decided to stay in Durhan to marry Naomi. After the couple were married, Itzhak returned to his home village of Atar.
The Journey to the Promised Land
Naomi’s father was recognized in his community as very generous and trustworthy. He was a major activist who helped many Jewish orphans and families escape the ruthless regime of Yemen by smuggling them to the Promised Land. Once the authorities discovered his activities, he and his family were in danger, and he decided it was time for them to make the journey themselves.
The trip took 5 months on foot and by boat through rough terrain until they reached the Holy Land in 1934. Shalom, Gali’s father, left with his wife’s family and his 1-year-old daughter, Yona, hoping to reunite with his parents and siblings someday. It took 16 years for that reunion to take place in 1950 when his family finally joined him.
A Feminist and Social Activist Ahead of Her Time
Naomi Atari, Gali’s mother, came to Israel with nothing but her strong spirit and angelic heart. She couldn’t read or write. Right from the start, she made education a priority for her children and herself. She refused to conform to the norms at the time regarding women’s roles in the home and community. She studied, qualified as a WIZO counselor and caregiver and soon began to volunteer all over the country. She was a mentor, a first responder, and a role model for all around her. She strove for nothing but the best for her 7 children in terms of their education, manners and the gift of giving.
Naomi’s long-standing contribution was recognized and celebrated by the WIZO organization for her 30 years of volunteer work and dedication. She was also presented with the “Razili” award for good citizenship and her exemplary work for the wellbeing of the people of her community while raising 7 children of her own.
A Voice Echoing Through the Generations
The talent of singing has deep roots in the Atari family and has passed from generation to generation. As mentioned above, Gali’s grandfather was a talented cantor, whose voice made the listeners’ breath catch in their throats when he sang the holy prayers and passages from the Torah. Gali’s brother, Yosi, says he grew up “beneath his father’s tallit” (the fringed garment traditionally worn by religious Jews during prayer). Knowing how to read the prayers and the holy texts is a celebrated skill in Jewish culture and especially in Yemenite Jewish culture; familiarity with the nuances, exact pronunciation and unique melody is no small matter. This talent passed down within the Atari family—and so did a gift for the performing arts. The next generation is taking it forward: Shay-Li Atari is a singer and performer; Hadar Atari is a soprano at the Israel Opera House; and Momy Levy is a singer, performer and producer. They are all following the footsteps of their famous aunts: Yona and Shosh, who are unfortunately no longer with us, and of course Israel’s Eurovision star, Gali.
As MyHeritage’s research shows, it was music that brought this famous and successful family into existence, and it is that love of music and the eternal bond of family that will carry them into the future.