National treasure Haim Hefer laid to rest in Ein Hod

Poet, song writer, film maker, playwright and former Palmachnik Haim Hefer laid to rest in Ein Hod Artists Village.

Haim Hefer 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Haim Hefer 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Poet, songwriter, filmmaker and playwright Haim Hefer was buried on Wednesday at the Ein Hod Artists’ Village in accordance with his wishes.
He had been seriously ill for quite some time, and although his death on Tuesday was not entirely unexpected, when it finally happened, it came as a shock to his friends among the Palmah veterans, the entertainment industry and the nation at large.
The Polish-born Hefer, who spent more than a third of his lifetime in Tel Aviv, divided his time in recent years between there and Ein Hod. Though known primarily for his prolific output of songs and poems, he had also been involved in illegal immigration, and in his youth had smuggled Jews out of Syria. Later Yigal Allon, one of his Palmah commanders – who had since become a politician – sent him as a cultural emissary to Los Angeles, from whence he returned with the founding residents of Karmiel. During his Palmah days, he had also been a kibbutznik, and his Palmah superiors had sent him to Kibbutz Dafna.
Prior to his funeral at Ein Hod, Hefer’s coffin lay in state at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, where he was eulogized both on and off stage and where the general public, many public figures – especially from the entertainment industry – and veteran Palmahniks who had been his comrades in arms paid their last respects. Some were also among the crowd that thronged to Ein Hod.
No government representative attended the funeral. Among those present at one or both places were Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai; Ya’acov Mendel, head of EMI (the Hebrew acronym for the Union of Israeli Artists); singer Yehoram Gaon; actors Chaim Topol, Shlomo Vishinsky and Sasson Gabai; composer Nahum Heiman; filmmaker Menachem Golan; actresses Gila Almagor and Rivka Michaeli; directors Naomi Polani and Ya’acov Agmon; comedian Tuvia Tsafir; lyricist Yoran Taharlev; Palmah comrades, including novelist Yoram Kaniuk, industrialist Stef Wertheimer, and poet, novelist, journalist and documentary filmmaker Haim Gouri; and Hefer’s daughter Mimi and her children.
Since Hefer’s passing, statements on the nation’s loss came from President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, among others. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a private message of condolence to the family.
Rivlin wanted to attend the funeral but had a prior commitment to be at a parliamentary conference in Strasburg.
He sent a message saying that Hefer was not just the king of the country – he was the country itself.
Rivlin recalled having grown up on Hefer’s songs.
Vishinsky, who signed his first contract ever with Hefer, said that he had viewed him as a father figure.
Heiman declared that “Haim Hefer’s songs tell the story of who we are or what we wanted to be.”
Michaeli nostalgically related that Hefer had written a song especially for her after their first meeting. She had been 26 years old at the time, and he had written “A Girl of 26.”
Golan compared Hefer to literary giants such as Avraham Shlonski and Natan Alterman and said that he was able to capture in a few words the most significant events of our times.
Kaniuk said that it was impossible to think about the Palmah without thinking about Hefer, while Polani, who worked with Hefer in the Palmah’s Chizbatron entertainment troupe, emphasized that it was not just the writer who should be remembered, but the man himself for his many unique qualities.
“He closed his eyes at such a difficult period for us, so that he would not see what is lying in store for us,” opined Almagor.
The impact that Hefer and fellow Polish immigrant Dahn Ben-Amotz had on the culture of the nascent state is perhaps apparent in the fact that most Israeli newspapers ran front-page and inside stories about Hefer, and his songs played for much of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning on the radio.
Both Hefer and Ben-Amotz came to Israel in the 1930s bearing Yiddish surnames. Hefer changed his name from Feiner, which translates as “finer” or “better.” The two, who worked in partnership for some time and were the leading lights of the country’s bohemian community, came to symbolize the essence of being a sabra. Both were pedantic about the Hebrew language. Ben- Amotz – together with yet another ex-Palmahnik, Netiva Ben-Yehuda – wrote a dictionary of Hebrew slang, while Hefer kept introducing new words and expressions into the language.
All three served in the Palmah, along with Wertheimer, who has devoted his energies to the development of the Galilee and the Negev.
Wertheimer first met Hefer in the Palmah, where the latter was forming the Chizbatron and Wertheimer was busy putting together explosives.
The two were billeted in rooms next door to each other, and each was curious about what the other was doing. That curiosity developed into camaraderie and led not only to a lifelong friendship, but also to several joint projects. The two were on the same page in their political outlooks and in their belief that everyone must be given the educational tools both to improve the quality of their lives and to make a significant contribution to the state.
Hefer’s own contribution is plain.
Generations of Israelis have sung and continue to sing his songs, many of which are steeped in the history of the Palmah. Some carry a universal message, while others are permanent reminders of the once-ideological Israeli, who lived by the motto of US President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Hefer was constantly troubled by the fragmentation and lack of harmony between the different sectors in the country’s social mosaic, particularly on issues of religious coercion.
He would likely have preferred to see more unity and less dissonance.
In eulogizing Hefer at Ein Hod, Wertheimer noted that there used to be two Haims among the wellknown Palmah veterans, and now there was one. He said it had been his good fortune to be Hefer’s friend.
They used to meet every Friday for coffee. After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, another leader in the Palmah, they had realized that a great change had taken place and that there was no one to lead them anymore.
After that, Hefer, working with composer Yoni Rechter, had written a song with the message, “Don’t wait for the Messiah. He’s not coming. You are the Messiah. Go to work.”
Gouri also spoke of his long and close relationship with Hefer. Gouri joined the Palmah in 1941, Hefer in 1943, and they had been friends ever since.
“Few people could achieve what he achieved,” said Gouri, who also alluded to Hefer’s integrity, saying he had never hidden his opinions behind diplomatic niceties – a characteristic for which, according to Gouri, “he paid a heavy price.”
Hefer’s daughter described him as the most loving, caring and involved father and grandfather that anyone could wish to have. “It is impossible to describe the enormity of our loss,” she said.
Some of Hefer’s songs were played at the funeral, including the Palmah anthem, for which he wrote the lyrics.