Dov Lautman, Arik Einstein and ‘good old’ Israel

It is not a simple task to be the prime minister of all the Israeli social groups and castes.

Arik Einstein 370 (photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Arik Einstein 370
(photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Two figures who symbolized the “good old” Israel to many Ashkenazi old-timers passed away last week: the industrialist Dov Lautman, and the singer Arik Einstein.
I put “good old” in quotation marks, because not everything about that Israel, from which today’s Israel seems light years away, was really all that good, and not everything about today’s Israel is all bad (far from it). However, a little bit of nostalgia never did anyone any harm, and since last week I also celebrated my 70th birthday, I hope I shall be forgiven for a few minutes of indulgence.
Let me begin by explaining what about the Israel of the first 20 years of the state’s existence was not particularly to my liking. As an extreme individualist who does not like anyone to intervene in my personal choices and shirks away from any sort of collectivism and conformism, I had an aversion to the excessive regimentation of the early years.
I resented the uniform in my school (the Reali school in Haifa), the fact that everyone joined a youth movement (in the case of the Reali only the scouts movement was approved of), the fact that only Israeli folk dancing was considered proper (classical ballet and ballroom dancing were mocked), and foreign pop music was formally sneered upon (the Beetles were not allowed to perform in Israel in 1965, because it was feared that their music would corrupt the youth). Fortunately, classical music enjoyed a place of respect, largely thanks to our magnificent philharmonic orchestra.
In retrospect I would say that the lack of real tolerance for anything that was not Ashkenazi, labor movement and secular, or that smacked of the Diaspora, was insensitive to the point of being crass, and was certainly short-sighted.
The 1977 political upheaval that brought the Likud and Begin to power put an end to all this, and laid the foundations for present-day Israel – for better and worse.
However, there was also a lot that was good in that Israel.
Though no less patriotic, security-minded, self-assured and cocky than today’s Israel (a fact pointed out by French President Charles De Gaulle in a press conference right after the Six Day War in 1967), the Israeli leaders of yesteryear understood that Israel could not go against the whole world – especially its more enlightened parts, that without political realism we didn’t stand a chance, and that Israel and the Jews were not the only state and people in the world with aspirations, rights and concerns.
On the socio-economic level egalitarianism was an ideal, political leaders did not seek and accumulate wealth by dodgy means, and though millionaires did exist, they did not flaunt their wealth, and did not build financial empires at the expense of the savings of the general public.
But to return to Lautman and Einstein, who were products of yesteryear’s Israel (both were born in Tel Aviv, in the latter 1930s), each in his own way represented distinct personal qualities that are far removed from what is encouraged and admired in present day Israel. Dov Lautman was a wealthy man, whose wealth was earned from the highly successful Delta enterprise that specializes in underwear and stockings, which he founded in 1975 and ran for more than 30 years.
Despite his wealth, he was never tempted to create financial pyramids and expand into economic spheres that were not part of his professional expertise. He played a major role in various capacities in promoting Israeli industry in general (not just his own economic interests) in the sphere of investments and R&D, and at the same time invested time and resources into promoting coexistence with our neighbors, social integration within the Israeli society, and education.
All this he did without conducting himself like a condescending gvir (wealthy masters), as some of today’s tycoons are inclined to do, and without seeking concessions or pity after he was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) 10 years ago.
Arik Einstein was an extremely handsome singer and cultural icon who developed an Israeli style of rock and roll, and who due to extreme shyness and stage fright rarely appeared in public after 1983, though he continued to write and record songs, on his own and in collaboration with others.
Among other things what exemplified Einstein’s songs was their meaningful texts, some written by our national poets, and many expressing his sentiments about what was going on in the country, which was less and less to his liking.
Einstein, who in his youth was an athlete and basketball player, remained a loyal fan of the “red” Hapo’el Tel-Aviv football team, proving that one could be a fanatic football groupie without the xenophobia and racism espoused by many of the fans of the “yellow” Jerusalem Betar team.
Though in the early years of his career Einstein sowed his wild oats, it is impossible not to compare his modesty, shyness and moral conduct with the absence of these qualities in the case of some of today’s popular singers of the popular Mizrahi genre of music – and especially Eyal Golan, who like Einstein is referred to by many as “hazamar hale’umi” (the national singer).
You might ask: what makes Lautman and Einstein symbols of the “old Israel,” beyond the fact that both were secular Ashkenazim who were born in Tel Aviv and never voted for a religious or right-wing party? My answer is that they symbolize the old Israel primarily because the population that admired them when they were still alive, and eulogized and mourned them publicly after their death, represents what remains of that Israel.
Incidentally, even though in the case of Einstein it was claimed that “the country as a whole mourned his death,” most of the country remained indifferent, just as “most of the country” remained indifferent when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef passes away recently. Israeli society is divided into numerous social groups and castes, which differ from each other in their origins, culture, beliefs and aspirations, each of which lives in its own bubble, and under the illusion that it – and none of the others – represent the “true” Israel.
It is against this background that I should like to express my appreciation for Binyamin Netanyahu, who within his capacity as prime minister publicly eulogized both Lautman and Einstein with carefully chosen words that in my opinion expressed sincere sentiments on his part, even though the representatives of the “old Israel” despise him and much of what he stands for, and hold him partially responsible for the incitement against the Oslo Accords, which 18 years ago led to the assassination of “their” prime minister (and a personal friend of Dov Lautman), Yitzhak Rabin.
It is not a simple task to be the prime minister of all the Israeli social groups and castes, which is why when Netanyahu makes an effort to play the role, I believe that his effort is worthy of appreciation.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.