assaf ramon with friend smiling 248 88.
(photo credit: Channel 2)
There is something about Shlomo Artzi that makes him a quintessential Israeli icon, in the same category as our more classical national heroes - Ben-Gurion, Begin, Rabin and Ilan Ramon.
I have adored Artzi ever since I first saw him sing over 30 years ago, which is why - despite suffering from food poisoning - I forced myself to make the journey from Jerusalem to Caesaria last Thursday night.
Artzi, who is almost 60, was marking 25 years since his first appearance at the spectacular location, and - as usual - he did not disappoint the packed amphitheater.
I happened to be sitting in the same row as a group of good-looking young men and women, and I noted how they knew every word of every song Artzi sang during his energetic, three-hour performance.
I could not help notice how they screamed when he sang "King of the World," the Hebrew version of the Plains White hit "When you are a king," how they cheered when he invited his soldier son, Yonatan, to join him on stage, and how one of the young men (who looked familiar, but I could not place him) had tears running down his face when Artzi dedicated a song to Gilad Schalit.
At the time, I thought that perhaps they had served in the army with Schalit, but when I saw the pictures and read the stories about Assaf Ramon's funeral on Monday, it hit me: I had been sitting near Assaf and his younger brother, Yiftah.
At Assaf's funeral in Moshav Nahalal, Yiftah recalled how excited they had been when Artzi sang "King of the World."
"Assaf, we were standing just a few days ago at Shlomo Artzi's concert, our joy reaching the sky," he said. "During the whole show, I thought about dad, and how much he was missing from our lives. And now you are lying there next to him, and I know that the two of you are looking over us from above."
The funeral ceremony ended with Assaf's favorite song, "King of the World," blasting from the loudspeakers.
The last refrain of the song can be roughly translated as follows: "For her (mom), you are the king of songs; for her, you can be whatever comes into your head, like, for example, the king of the beasts or the king of the hills. If you climb up somewhere, be whoever you want to be, because for her, you are always king of the world."
The reference was clear: For Rona Ramon, after her heroic husband, Ilan Ramon, was killed in the Columbia space shuttle tragedy six years ago, Assaf had become "king of the world."
Rona herself stated it directly in her moving eulogy:
"Assaf, I know that your father is watching over you and hugging you now. You were the king of the world."