Israeli musical pioneer Shmulik Kraus laid to rest

Israeli musician who "changed the face of music" passes away from Swine Flu at the age of 77.

Shmulik Kraus (photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Shmulik Kraus
(photo credit: Hadas Parush)
A time-honored Israeli tune playing in a space shuttle orbiting the earth was the perfect way to symbolize the impact iconic musician Shmulik Kraus had on Israeli pop culture, according to one of his oldest friends.
Yankele Rotblit, a friend of Kraus’s for over four decades, was the only person to eulogize him at his gravesite on Monday. When asked what impact his friend had on Israeli culture, Rotblit mentioned that astronaut Ilan Ramon had decided to play Kraus’ song “Hatishma Koli” as he orbited Earth on the illfated Columbia space shuttle in 2003.
In Rotblit’s eyes, the anecdote symbolized the way his friend opened new cultural horizons for Israelis in the 1960s, he said.
“This is the man who actually created the first Israeli rock ’n’ roll or pop music. He changed the face of music in that respect,” Rotblit said when asked what impact his friend had had on Israeli pop culture.
On a personal level, he said, Kraus “was a very dear man to me. He had his outbursts.
Okay, we all have our moments.”
Kraus died from swine flu on February 17 at Ichilov Hospital, part of the Souraksy Medical Center in Tel Aviv, at the age of 77.
On Monday mourners in Petah Tikva recalled him as a gifted artist with an outsized influence on Israeli culture, and a man plagued by the turmoil of his personal life.
Actor Shlomo Vishinsky said his friend was “like an Israeli Ernest Hemingway” both because of the cultural imprint he left and the hectic lifestyle he led.
Vishinsky, Kraus’ commander during the Six Day War, said “every young person who plays music has Shmulik’s tunes in his head. He brought us all types of things that weren’t in Israel before, that weren’t part of our music.”
Kraus was born in Jerusalem, one of four brothers. After his service in the Israel Navy he worked for a spell as a merchant seaman and not long after, in the early 1960s, joined Esther and Avi Ofarim as part of what became the Ofarim Trio, and later formed the legendary group Hahalonot Hag’vo’him (High Windows) along with, Josie Katz, who was his wife, and Arik Einstein.
Kraus and Katz moved to New York for a few years and later divorced, while Kraus continued with his musical career and made a foray into feature films.
Over the years he was arrested on a few occasions for violence, and was twice hospitalized at the Abarbanel State Mental Health Center.
Israeli composer Kobi Oshrat stood by the roadside at the Yarkon cemetery near Tel Aviv, speaking about his friend of 40 years and the secret conversations they’d have in Ladino when they didn’t want anyone to understand them.
Oshrat called Kraus “a sensitive soul” and added that there was a simple genius to his music that will stand the test of time.
“There were a few songs that became classics, and Shmulik will be with us forever.” •