Shalom, Arik Einstein

Singer/songwriter Arik Einstein, who died suddenly Tuesday night at age 74, was the linchpin of a special kind of Israeli nostalgia.

Arik Einstein 521 (photo credit: Courtesy:PR)
Arik Einstein 521
(photo credit: Courtesy:PR)
Singer/songwriter Arik Einstein, who died suddenly Tuesday night at age 74, was the linchpin of a special kind of Israeli nostalgia. Tall, handsome and talented, he was the first authentic showbiz idol of that first generation of Israelis either born or raised in an independent Jewish state. If for nothing else but that, his place in the annals of Israeli music and entertainment is assured.
He rose to particular prominence in the early 1960s, a time when the teen idol phenomenon overseas was reaching what for that period was a strident crescendo. Its residual echoes were beginning to reverberate here too. Yet in that Israel of yesteryear it was still a time of innocence.
There was no television here and only vinyl phonograph records imparted a hint of overseas fads. They sufficed, however, to render the youth restless and wanting more.
Local stars, incontrovertibly headlined by Einstein, provided the homegrown outlet-cum-alternative to international crazes. And Einstein was adulated, probably like no one before him was in the evolving Israeli setting. To be sure, his appeal wasn’t limited to infatuated schoolgirls.
His lanky figure, boyish good looks and self-effacing manner won him adherents in all age groups. He became the quintessential Sabra icon and hung on with seeming ease to that distinction for many years.
Incredibly (by today’s criteria), it didn’t go to his head.
He was never full of himself, never besotted by his own fame, never ostentatious, never loaded with bling, never demanding privileges as if they were his due. It was mostly the measure of the man but, at least to a small extent, also the measure of a less materialistic and less pretentious era.
It’s almost melancholy-engendering to compare his modest demeanor to that of the current crop of celebrities, who not only crave notoriety, but who abuse their renown to amass wealth (not always legitimately) and to surround themselves with pleasures of the flesh (often illicitly). They become detrimental role-models to impressionable youngsters in a society where excessive permissiveness blurs remaining moral guidelines.
They are exactly what Einstein never allowed himself to become. It’s instructive to note that he died in the very same Tel Aviv house where he lived since his birth in 1939.
He was born to stage royalty. His father, Ya’acov, was a leading actor in the Ohel Theater, but that too didn’t go to young Arik’s head, although he aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps.
What is often forgotten today is that he wasn’t only a crooner but gained popularity in satirical stage productions.
He had a unique flare for comedy. As a heart-throb he also became a film star (the kibbutznik in Sallah Shabbati, for example). For a time, he seemed ubiquitous, earning top billing in a variety of genres. Moreover, he was more than a gifted performer. He wrote lyrics and composed music as well. There was a very marked soulful quality to his creative output, which assured its enduring appeal despite the vicissitudes of fashions and tastes. Again, much of the current harvest of here-today-gone tomorrow hits suffers greatly by comparison to his durable melodies and verses. His emotive and literate originality easily towers over its shallow and trite latterday counterparts.
Einstein wasn’t bereft of political views and he wrote what he considered protest songs. But these were never in-your-face and their understated sophistication earned them acceptance on all sides of the political divide. Unlike all too many contemporary celebs, Einstein never assumed that his star status gave him an extraordinary say in public affairs. Indeed, he didn’t believe it gave him any special claim in any sphere of life. He plainly lacked the vulgarity and arrogance so common in the limelight these days.
Undeniably, he avoided the glare and glitter. He rarely left home. He stressed, though, that he was by no means a recluse. He even wrote a song whose refrain is: “I like being home, with the tea and the lemon and the old books....
with the same love and the same habits.”
In his song, San Francisco, he appreciated the beauty of the American city, but yearned for the warmth and charm of the Land of Israel. “Give me a piece of Mount Tabor and the Kinneret,” he sang. One of the last memorable songs he sang was in 2011 to honor the return home of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. “You’ll always be a hero,” Einstein sang. “You are allowed to cry.” We can now say the same about Arik Einstein.