Today is the anniversary of the death of one of Israel’s cultural heroes, the singer Arik Einstein. Although he was almost 75 when he died, in our collective memory, he remained forever young.
Arik Einstein was a private person, as he wrote in one of his songs,” he loved to stay at home.” However, after his passing public figures and especially Benjamin Netanyahu, were not sensitive to his explicit wishes and life choices, and turned his funeral into a national event which gave them exposure and political gain.
This is my essay “Enigma of a cultural hero or Between Arik Einstein and Bibi Netanyahu, which I wrote last November.
I am sad today, my favorite Israeli singer Arik Einstein (1939—2013) died suddenly yesterday morning. He wasn’t only loved by me, he was immensely popular. But since he was a highly private person and his family asked for a quiet funeral, I didn’t expect that an official state funeral would close down the streets of Tel Aviv. Moreover, I couldn’t imagine that our prime minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu would appear at the funeral and claim Arik Einstein as his own. This was a hit below the belt–please let Arik RIP. I wish my last memory of the beloved singer could remain untarnished by an image of Bibi Netanyahu making yet another speech.
Actually this is a good place to start because everything about Arik Einstein was the exact opposite of Netanyau. Arik Einstein was a very talented man who wanted to be left alone, to maintain his privacy and to do the things that he loved quietly and outside of the limelight. Netanyahu is an intelligent man who cannot survive without constant attention and demands plenty of recognition for everything that he does.
Privacy is not a concept that Netanyahu appreciates; his rise to the top has only been possible thanks to television: like a sunflower he basked and flourished in its light. Since his days as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations (1984 to 1988) when he “perfected his technique,” he has not missed an opportunity to be seen in public or to speak on television.
In contrast, in the early 80s Arik Einstein, by then already a successful and highly acclaimed singer and actor, stopped appearing in public. However, he never ceased working and continued to make music and record. He had a special talent to attract and discover quality musicians and to bring out their special qualities. He collaborated with a large number of musicians and sang their songs in a beautiful clear baritone voice. His clean and unaffected voice has become a symbol to everything which was honest about Israel, a voice of yearning for better and simpler days.
Arik Einstein changed the music scene in Israel for the better but never took any credit for it. He even refused to accept the most prestigious award in Israel, the “Israel Prize.”
In an extrovert and noisy nation like ours, it is incomprehensible how such a private person who has stayed home for more than 30 years could become a national symbol and a cultural hero. This quality of not tooting one’s own horn but just doing the job quietly and professionally, even meticously, is also not a common Israeli trait. At the funeral someone said that every one of us has his/her own Arik. I feel that this could be part of the answer. We would like to believe that we are a little better than we really are, and that within us we have some of the humility, professionalism and integrity that Arik had.
It helped that Arik was good looking, witty and graceful, and since he withdrew from the public eye so long ago, he never grew old. In our hearts he remained the Israeli Peter Pan — forever fresh, handsome and young.
As for Bibi, unlike Dorian Gray, this fine looking man did age publicly in front of our eyes and his faults have become increasingly prominent – one of the unfortunate effects of over exposure.
Still since he took the time to be at the funeral and to speak about Arik, perhaps it could be an opportunity for Netanyahu to learn from this cultural hero a lesson about integrity. If such reflection does take place, I wouldn’t even mind to have my last memory of Arik Einstein mixed with an image of Bibi.
Today a year later, Arik is greatly missed, Bibi Netanyahu on the other hand, has not learnt that lesson and remained the same..