By the thousands they came to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Wednesday to bid farewell to Arik Einstein, a man they said was much more than a singer – a symbol of their lives, their country, a years-long past.
“Small children, big children, good children, bad children, you know mom, we are all the children of life,” Shalom Hanoch sang underneath overcast skies on Wednesday. It was a poignant moment – Einstein’s legendary friend and former partner in crime, standing next to the casket before a crowd of thousands in his hometown, bidding farewell with a song of love and tenderness.
There were children of all ages at the square on Wednesday – some entering their sixth or seventh decade of life – mourning a man who defined the sounds of their childhood, their adolescence, their days in the army or college, the songs they sang to their children and grandchildren.
They were a quiet crowd, with many holding cellphones high to record the songs and photograph the ceremony. Again and again they described their hero as a man who transcended music, fame and pop culture. They spoke of a man who personified something about themselves – a life gone by, easier days far gone in the rear-view mirror, a kinder and gentler Israel that maybe, just maybe, never quite existed.
“He represents something you’re always missing,” said Sharon Hochman, 42, who drove to the ceremony from Hadera with her young daughter in tow. “He was the singer who represented the old Israel, when the words [of songs] mattered. He’s an icon of Israel, something that’s not yet lost.”
Hochman added that Einstein was and will remain the soundtrack for every family trip, something she hopes to pass on to her daughter.
Across the crowd there were flurries of deep red, Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer fans wearing the colors of the team Einstein loved and supported for decades. One said Einstein “wore two hats – Hapoel and the Land of Israel.”
Another Hapoel Tel Aviv fan, 21- year-old Tsur Sadeh, who drove down from Haifa, described Einstein as “the spiritual father of Hapoel and of all of us. We loved him, he was a symbol that united all of us.”
His friends joked that Einstein would have turned over in his casket if he’d known he was being eulogized by a Beitar Jerusalem fan – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – but added that it just showed how much he was loved across the spectrum of society.
Beitar fan or not, Netanyahu spoke of a deep love for Einstein.
“I heard you on the radio on the way here talking about how much you loved the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu said, addressing the deceased. “Arik, how much we all loved you. We all grew up on your songs, laughed until we cried at your skits, and were moved by your films.
Your art is part of the people of Israel and always will be.”
The contrast between Einstein, the modest wordsmith, and the glitzy Israeli pop stars of today was brought up a few times, especially with his death coming after more than a week of nonstop media coverage of the sex scandal involving Eyal Golan, a musical giant of today’s Israel.
“X-Factor, X-Shmacter,” said Amnon, a resident of the North in his late-50s who drove down from Haifa, referring to the Israeli version of the singing contest on which the embattled Golan is a judge. “None of this can match up to Arik, and no one will ever be able to replace him.”
Amnon had just finished lighting a memorial candle on the pavement, and described how his three sons, Yuval, Itamar and Omer, all grew up on Einstein’s songs. At each of their bar mitzva celebrations, he had played one of the singer’s later hits, “Uf, Gozal,” about the way birds lovingly raise their chicks so they can fly off from the nest.
“You know, it’s funny,” he said. “I was talking with my sons yesterday about it. I’m almost 60, they’re all in their 30s, and we all grew up on Arik, all of us.”
Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum – Left, Right, religious, secular, Jewish and Arab – paid tribute to Einstein on Wednesday.
In addition to Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud Beytenu), MK Stav Shaffir (Labor), and other MKs also attended the funeral.
At the Knesset, Education, Culture and Sport Committee chairman Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) opened a meeting with high school principals by playing a clip of Einstein singing “You and I Will Change the World.”
“Last night was a sad night after we learned about the death of our national singer, Arik Einstein, who is beloved by all,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said in the plenum. “Arik sang, ‘You and I will change the world.’ I hope that this house will continue to change the world for the better for citizens of Israel.”
MKs from Bayit Yehudi to Hadash opened their plenum speeches by paying tribute to Einstein. Deputy Minister Ophir Akunis (Yisrael Beytenu), the government’s liaison to the Knesset, said change would come in the form of convincing the world to be more strict with Iran about its nuclear capabilities.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) recalled using Einstein’s songs during activities as a Bnei Akiva counselor. He quoted lyrics from one: “How I love you, Land of Israel, why am I so sad, Land of Israel.”
Ultra-Orthodox MKs pointed out that Einstein’s children and grandchildren were religious.
“He loved them very much and was proud of them,” MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) said of the singer’s family. “Two years ago I saw him at his grandson’s wedding.... I saw his hugs and great love for his grandchildren. Aside from the legacy of his songs, this Jewish legacy is more important than anything else he left behind.”