Latest Obituaries

Fly Away Little Bird

Legendary Israeli singer Arik Einstein dies

By Steven Plaut

Arik Einstein

Arik Einstein

Legendary Israeli singer Arik Einstein died Tuesday at 74 in Tel Aviv after suffering a hemorrhage in a major heart artery. “We all grew up on his songs. You said, ‘Arik Einstein,’ and you said, ‘the Land of Israel.’ He was a wonderful singer and a wonderful person,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.

Following Einstein’s death, Steven Plaut, associate professor of business administration at the University of Haifa and a member of the editorial board of the “Middle East Quarterly”, wrote this article on his blog (www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com).

Israel is a much poorer country this evening, having lost Arik Einstein. He died [on Tuesday, Nov. 26] at age 74.

I have over the years posted lists, especially around Independence Day, of what I love most about Israel and invariably Arik Einstein is high up on the list. Einstein was in many ways the epitome of the modern Israeli, the sabra. He is often described as a “folk singer,” but that term is misleading.  His music contained much of what is positive and beautiful in the contemporary Israeli soul. He was among the best that sabra Israeli culture has produced.

I believe that, of all the arts, Israel’s greatest achievements are in its music, especially its popular music. There are many different styles and flavors and countless superb singers and performers. And in the midst of all this, Einstein always stood out. He was the secular sabra from the bohemian circles of Tel Aviv who refused to pursue the political fads of so many of the other members of the chattering artsy classes.  His was a deeply felt if humble pride in his Israeliness. Judaism for him was captured in that Israeliness and needed nothing more, and he was not really a Jewish singer beyond being an Israeli singer. He never preached. He did not sing about religious themes.  If he had political opinions, he kept them to himself.

It is said that Will Rogers never met a man he did not like. Well I do not think there is a single Israeli who did not like Arik Einstein. His appeal crossed all barriers and lines and classes and subdivisions. There are styles of Israeli music that appeal to only subsets of the population, but Einstein was beloved by everyone from all walks of life. His secularism never alienated the religious. His quiet love of country never offended the politically correct. His patriotism was not a political proclamation but rather it was expressed in songs of affection for and attachment to country, to the land, to places, to Ein Gedi, to history.

He loved “Land of Israel” songs, ballads of love of country from yesteryear. He could sing songs from the Palmach from the ‘40s without sounding corny, stale, or archaic. He could sing old songs of the pioneers, and then transition into modern love ballads. One of his most famous songs was about the beauty of San Francisco, a song also filled with deep longing for home in Israel and anticipation of returning to the mundane life in Tel Aviv. The Ashkenazi northern Tel Aviv bohemians saw him as one of their own, and even they raised no objection to his patriotism, as he sang, “This land, this land is OURS.”

His was the life of the Ashkenazi sabra salt of the earth. Born in Tel Aviv, he made his musical debut like so many of the generation of the 1960s in Israeli army musical troupes.  He worked in theater after completing his military service.

His humor was legendary and characterizes the many clips, movies, and performances of his. He played the young kibbutznik in the Israeli classic movie Salah Shabbati, one of the only Israeli movies ever made worth watching. His music was a bit of Paul Simon, a bit of Woody Guthrie, a bit of folk-rock, and a bit of so many others. And his musical career lasted for decades. Some 10 or 15 years back he stopped appearing. Rumors are that he was suffering from depression. The live performances ceased all the while his music continued to dominate the airwaves. In 2010 a survey found that his were the most widely played and heard songs on Israeli radio of any performer. He spoke to the ordinary Israeli. His songs were about driving old cars, eating watermelon, strolling in Tel Aviv, doing reserve service in the army.

One of my very favorite songs of Einstein is “Fly Away Little Bird” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkiv2jHaWsg]. It is a lovely description of the fears and hopes of parenthood as a child strikes off in independence. It is a song to which few parents can listen with dry eyes.  The clip has Hebrew subtitles but you can see an English translation at  http://ulpan.com/uf-gozal.html.

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