The artists and cultural institutions that define Israeli

Batsheva Dance Company, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Naomi Shemer and Arik Einstein are among Israel's cultural icons.

Ephraim Kishon Kishon was the country's premier satirist, helping to define Israeli humor and possessing international appeal, with some 50 books translated into 37 languages. But as a screenwriter, director and producer of iconic films like Sallah Shabati (1964) and Hashoter Azoulay (1971), he set the standard for local film to which young directors still aspire to reach. Batsheva Dance Company Marking the beginning of the country's real dance history with its founding in 1964 by the late Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, Israel's leading dance company, under the direction of gifted choreographer Ohad Naharin, has developed into a world-class company with a unique dance language that reflects and embodies the country and its people. Omri Nitzan/Cameri Theater The first Hebrew-language repertory theater that actively solicited contemporary playwriting by local authors, the Cameri has identified with the nation's conscience and mood since its creation by director Yosef Millo in 1944. Whether tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Plonter), Israel-Diaspora relations (Pollard) or the problems of new immigrants (Uri Muri), the Cameri under the direction of Omri Nitzan, called by Post theater critic Helen Kaye "Israel's most brilliant and innovative theater director by far," has attracted more than 20 million spectators here and abroad. Israel Philharmonic Orchestra The country's leading symphony orchestra was founded by violinist Bronislaw Huberman in 1936. One of Israel's greatest worldwide ambassadors through frequent tours abroad, the IPO has attracted supreme conducting talents such as Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Masur and music director for life Zubin Mehta, and rightfully so. It remains an oasis of fine local culture and a magnet for top musical talent. Arik Einstein Ask Israeli rock historian Yoav Kutner who the country's most influential singer has been, and he lists three: "Arik Einstein, Arik Einstein and Arik Einstein." Whether in collaboration with Shalom Hanoch, the Churchills or on his own, Einstein defined local pop music and synthesized the Beatles and a Mediterranean sensibility. Whenever a major event takes place in the country - joyous or unfortunately tragic - radio programmers invariable cue up an Einstein song to express our mood. Naomi Shemer The "First Lady of Israeli Song," Shemer provided a soundtrack to a young country growing up. Writing and performing anthems of Eretz Yisrael Hayafa, which succeeded in expressing the revival of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, Shemer's songs continue to strike deep emotional chords. No wonder that her most famous offering - "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" (Jerusalem of Gold) was once proposed to replace "Hatikva" as the national anthem. Hagashash Hahiver Well before Saturday Night Live, there was Hagashash Hahiver (The Pale Tracker). The trio of Yeshayahu Levi (Shaike), Yisrael Poliakov (Poli) and Gavriel Banai (Gavri) helped define Israeli humor and contributed numerous terms and catchwords to modern spoken Hebrew. You can't get to Zehu Zeh, Nikkui Rosh, Hamishiya Hakamerit or current comedy hit Eretz Nehederet without starting here. Hadag Nahash Whether the versatile hip-hop group will appear on a list of most important local artists 10 years from now remains to be seen. But today, it's leading the pack of socially aware artists who are lyrically and musically challenging audiences. If Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov symbolize the Mizrahi struggle and Uri Zohar defines the religious-secular divide, then Hadag Nahash, through material like "The Sticker Song" (with lyrics by writer David Grossman), is a big shout out to a generation's cynicism and confusion over the political and social mess the country finds itself in. Great art is a reflection of society, and Hadag Nahash are insightful mouthpieces - with a big, funky beat.