Achinoam Nini: “I take very seriously the job I’ve been given, and I want to show what the organization is doing in our region, so I can make a real contibution.”For the first time ever, an Israeli entertainer has been chosen to serve as a good will ambassador for a United Nations organization.

Singer Achinoam Nini, was appointed last week to be a UN Food and Agriculture Organization Ambassador, a job that involves publicizing the organization’s efforts to fight world hunger.

The announcement of her appointment took place in Rome on World Food Day. Representatives of 168 countries – including several Arab nations such as Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt – stood up and cheered enthusiastically as Nini’s appointment was announced and she made her acceptance speech, after which she sang the song “Now.”

Following the ceremony, members of the crowd hugged and kissed her and asked for her autograph.

Nini is one of Israel’s most successful and acclaimed artists internationally, known by the name with which she performs internationally, “Noa.” A delicate slender woman with olive skin and long dark hair, Nini was born in Israel to a family of Yemenite origin. When she was two years old, her parents moved to the United States, where she lived in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx until she was 17 years old. On a visit to Israel as a teenager, she fell in love, and decided to return to her native country.

After serving in the IDF in a military singing troup, she attended the Rimon School of Music, where she met instructor Gil Dor, who became her musical partner – the pair have collaborated closely ever since. The sound that they have developed together melds Middle Eastern music to jazz and rock rhythms.

She has recorded four Israeli albums in Hebrew, three international albums in English, with songs in other languages, and performed in hundreds of concerts around the world. She has performed for the Pope, Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg, and late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and has shared stages with Sting, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Quincy Jones, and Sheryl Crow.

Nini and Dor have been enthusiastically received all over the world, especially in Europe and the Far East. They performed “Ave Maria” at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, before an audience of 100,000, including the pope and Mother Teresa (“one of the highlights of my career,”) opened for Sting eight times (“he said we gave him a run for his money”) and performed before a packed house at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

The thirty-two years old Nini is married to Dr. Asher Barak, a pediatrician, and is the mother of a one-year-old son.

Like every Israeli artist who works internationally, she has found herself in the position of spokesperson for the country, and has raised controversy with some of her clearly outspoken left-wing views.

This new position will bring her into the political spotlight even more, though she says she dislikes politics and has no intention of making them her career.

“I speak as a human being, a mother and as an Israeli who loves her country. I choose not to fight with weapons, but with my voice, my love, and my feelings,” she says. “I will try to explain that on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side exists a majority who want to put an end to this dispute and to live in peace side by side.”

“I take very seriously the job I’ve been given, and I want to show what the organization is doing in our region, so I can make a real contibution.” She stresses the balance between charity and responsibility, “giving people an opportunity to help themselves.”

She said that she was “happy and proud” to be chosen as FAO ambassador. “I plan to help the FAO at every opportunity in its battle against hunger. I plan to travel to areas where there is a population suffering from hunger and which needs help.”

The FAO Ambassadors Program, like other UN programs that utilize celebrity Ambassadors, is designed to use the drawing power of entertainers and sports heroes to bring attention to the unglamorous problem of world hunger.

Other FAO Ambassadors include singer Dionne Warwick; Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi Montalcini; Chinese actress Gong Li; actress Gina Lollobrigida; Brazilian singer Gilberto Gil; Bahamian Olympic gold medallist Debbie Ferguson; jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater; Italian soccer player Roberto Baggio; and Lebanese singer Ms Magida Al Roumi.

According to FAO, each of its ambassadors “has made a personal and professional commitment to address the universal humanitarian issues that underpin FAO’s mission: to build a food-secure world for present and future generations.”

UN World Food Program director James T. Morris says that it is crucial to continue to spread the message that almost 800 million people continue to suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. “Millions are counting on us to remind the world of their daily struggle, and the best way for them to be heard is for all of us to speak with one loud voice,” he said.