National culture icon Haim Hefer dies at 86

Israel Prize laureate passes away at Tel Aviv hospital; Education Ministry to add his poems, writing to school curriculum.

September 18, 2012 21:32
2 minute read.
Hefer with the Chizbatron, September 1949

Haim Hefer 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Poet, songwriter, filmmaker and playwright Haim Hefer, one of the icons of Israeli culture, died on the second day of Rosh Hashana at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, after a long illness. His funeral will take place on Wednesday.

A prolific songwriter and poet whose works are at the foundation of Israel’s national cultural treasure, Hefer for many years wrote poems based on current events for Yediot Aharonot.

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Born in Sosnowiec, Poland, in 1925, he came to British Mandate Palestine in 1936, and at age 17 joined the Hagana.

He helped to smuggle illegal immigrants through Syria and Lebanon. He was the founder the Palmah’s military entertainment unit Chizbatron, which was the forerunner of the IDF entertainment units.

His imprint on Israeli culture earned him the Israel Prize for Hebrew song in 1983.

A gruff, straight from the shoulder personality, Hefer was the darling of radio and television interviewers because he had no compunction about telling it like it was whether he was talking about events that happened before the creation of the state, the early years of the state or current affairs.

Among his most popular songs were “The Last War,” “He Didn’t Know Her Name” and “Yes, It’s Possible.” Another of his songs, “The Red Rock,” made popular by performer Arik Lavi, was initially banned because it was thought that it would encourage adventurous Israelis to make dangerous, illegal excursions to Petra in Jordan.

The songs he wrote never went out of style, and were frequently played not only on radio musical programs, but as background to radio and television documentaries.

Hefer’s father had made sure while they still living in Poland that his son would receive a good Hebrew education, but when the family settled in Ra’anana, the other children mocked the Polish newcomer because he did not speak colloquial Hebrew. His Hebrew was far more classical, and some of the expressions he used were already passé. He eventually overcame this obstacle and found his place in Israel’s entertainment world and in mainstream society.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who was among the many who expressed regret at Hefer’s death, issued a statement saying that his work embodied the spirit of Israel’s struggle for independence, the heroism of its soldiers and the nation’s yearning for peace. It was difficult to imagine Israeli culture without Hefer’s songs, Saar stated, adding that he has instructed the Education Ministry to include his contribution to Israeli culture in school curricula.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich also expressed her regret, adding that his work has had a deep impact on the language, culture and humor of the state of Israel, and in this way, “he will stay with us always.”

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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