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Keep Dreaming: He sang at my wedding
By DAVID BREAKSTONE
26/12/2013
"Tens of thousands came out to mourn the passing of Arik Einstein, but not many can claim he sang at their wedding. I can."
 
Tens of thousands came out to mourn the passing of Arik Einstein, but not many can claim he sang at their wedding. I can.

Back in 1975, I marched down the aisle to the tune of “You and I are going to change the world.” Israel’s legendary rock star may not have been on hand in person, but the words were no less powerful for his absence – and I fully believed them to be true. Indeed, I knew that “others have said it before me, but no matter. You and I are going to change the world.”

My heyday of innocence and optimism. The afterglow of aliya. My bride and I had left an America still reeling from the bitterness of the Vietnam War, and though we found ourselves landing plunk in the aftershock of our own Yom Kippur War debacle, we knew that the country would recover. More than recover. Israelis were resilient and irrepressible and we were certain that our newly adopted society would regain the buoyancy and confidence it had earned in the Six Day War, while continuing to toil in fulfillment of the Zionist dream. And we were going to be a part of it.

“You and I, we’ll start from the beginning. Things will be tough for us. No matter. Nothing terrible.” Everything was possible. Arik had told us so.

When throngs spontaneously amass to express their grief and pay their last respects to one who has died, it is because of something deep and primal and resonant that his or her life personifies. Think John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Yitzhak Rabin, Rav Ovadia Yosef and Nelson Mandela.

Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” embodied the idealism and selflessness embraced by America of the early ’60s. King’s “I have a dream” empowered all black Americans to dream as well. Rabin’s final “song of peace” gave expression to the unrequited yearning for an end to war, carried in the hearts of those who have had to fight them. Yosef injected a massive dosage of pride and place into a vast segment of Israeli society that had previously been denied both. And Mandela’s “long walk to freedom” liberated black South Africa from years of insufferable bondage.

Though it would be excessive to catapult Einstein into the league of these great leaders, there is no denying the enormous popular outpouring of grief that his passing prompted, and the sense of kinship that it engendered among ordinarily incongruent segments of our society. As we mark his shloshim this week, the end of the traditional 30-day mourning period for one who has died, it is an opportunity to reflect on what it was about Arik and his music that reverberated so deeply in our collective psyche.

“He who has dreamed and his dream remains, he who stays awake throughout the night will yet set the light of day.” His was the voice of an Israel coming of age, losing its innocence while tenaciously holding on to the idealism of a world quickly disappearing. He didn’t sing of Zionism, but quintessentially epitomized its triumph.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1939, the first Hebrew city, a decade before the Hebrew people would have a state, his was the story of the nostalgically charming provincial village of Israel-in-the-making tentatively reaching out to embrace a distant world in which we were not yet at ease. He succeeded in doing that, and in so doing, gave all of us the courage to venture beyond our comfort zone, but not without caution: “Fly away little bird, into the sky. Fly wherever you desire. Just don’t forget. There is an eagle in the sky. Watch out for yourself.”

Typical Einstein. Ostensibly devoid of ideology or social protest, his songs were full of counsel as to how to live a sane, balanced and harmonious life in a world that is anything but. “Go slowly, my friend. Don’t rush. Let your eyes take everything in. Breathe the air of budding flowers. Let them start without us. Go slowly. Go slowly.” Go slowly, for inevitably the end will arrive far too quickly. “My little birds have left the nest, spread their wings and flown away. I’m an old bird left in the nest… I always knew the day would come to part. But now that it’s come upon me so suddenly, just like that, no wonder I worry a bit.”

But he was far more fond of loving than worrying, and his songs were as seductive as they were romantic. Mostly about women, but not only. “Sitting by the water in San Francisco, my eyes rejoice in blue and green. It’s beautiful by the water in San Francisco, so why do I feel so far away? Suddenly, I want home. Give me a piece of Mount Tabor. Give me a piece of the Kinneret. I love to fall in love with this little Land of Israel, wonderful and warm.”

I imagine, then, that for many of us, Einstein’s death was an occasion for introspection. Reminding us of why we are here and prompting us to ask the tough questions: Have I fulfilled the promises I’ve made? Have I reaped all I believe I was promised? Have I changed the world as I set out to do? Indeed, have I done anything with my life that even justifies my asking if, after I am gone, “Will you hear my voice, my distant voice, wherever you might be? A voice calling with strength, a voice calling in silence. And forever commanding a blessing.”

Arik Einstein needn’t have asked, such was his voice, and one month ago it commanded Israel, in all its diversity, to rejoice in his blessing and celebrate his legacy. For each of us there is a special song; for all of us a common message: “He who has dreamed will not forget his dream.”

Keep dreaming.

The writer is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed herein are his own.
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