Actor-singer Yossi Banai passes away

Katsav: A Renaissance man who left his mark on local stage, screen and song.

yossi banai slow (photo credit: )
yossi banai slow
(photo credit: )
Writer, actor and singer Yossi Banai, one of Israel's most beloved and admired artists, died Thursday at 74 after a serious illness. He is survived by his wife and three children, one of whom is Mashina soloist Yuval Banai. Banai's funeral is to take place Friday at 11 a.m. at the Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha cemetery. The winner of the 1998 Israel Prize, Banai was celebrated as an extraordinarily talented actor, singer and writer. In addition to performing on stage and screen, Banai wrote and staged numerous performances, including skits for five productions of the Hagashash Hahiver entertainment group, of which his brother, Gavri Banai, was a member. Banai started out his career as an actor at Habima, where he continued to perform for over 50 years. Over time, he performed in every major Israeli theater as well as in numerous other venues. He was also well known for his renditions of French songs by Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, and other French singers, adapted into Hebrew by Naomi Shemer. "Today, the State of Israel lost one of its cultural giants," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a statement released Thursday. "Yossi Banai's excellence was multi-faceted: in directing, on the stage, on the screen and in song," he said. "His unique voice had a central place in the story of the renewed Jewish state in the Land of Israel. Yossi was a rare combination of styles and cultures, of the classical and the modern, the old and the new, that turned him into an Israeli cultural icon." Israel's top artists, actors and singers mourned his departure, describing him as an extraordinarily talented, creative and charismatic artist. Speaking on Army Radio, Shaike Levy, a member of Hagashash Hahiver, described Banai as "an introverted yet incredibly rich person." "Yossi was everything," he said. "A great teacher, someone you could consult with, extremely funny, it was simply a pleasure to be with him." "He constantly searched for new forms of expressions, and never wanted to stand still," added composer Yoni Rechter. "He was very open and easy to work with, and was extremely sensitive to words - he was an actor before being a singer." Banai was born in the Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood of Jerusalem, and grew up in an observant home. Last year, he issued a CD on which he read verses from Psalms, accompanied by music composed by Yonatan Bar-Giora. "At an older age, as an actor and also offstage, I began to realize how much poetry this enchanted text contained," he said in an interview following the release of the CD. "The Hebrew language, as it appears in Psalms, is simply sublime - so that even nonbelievers who do not treat the verses as a love song to divinity can read them as pure poetry." On Thursday night, all Israeli theaters observed a minute of silence in Banai's memory. Radio and television programs will also be altered over the weekend to include interviews with and about the artist and excerpts from his performances.