On 7 October 2014, some 40,000 people packed Tel Aviv’s Ganei Yehoshua for the concert in memory of Arik Einstein. It was a magical moment, with whole generations of performers on stage, stunning visual effects, Shimon Peres welcoming the audience, and everyone packed together, singing along and knowing the words.
Today, that seems like another world. It is hard to imagine having a concert that crowded until many months from now. For those of us who were at the concert, we remember the cameras zipping by on rails, recording the event for all to see. But the video of the concert has not appeared.
In the United States there was another performance of similar cultural impact – the musical “Hamilton”. Performances in theaters were sold out for years, and tickets went for eye-popping prices. There were meticulous plans for travelling productions and an electronic release at some distant point in the future. But when the coronavirus hit, that no longer made sense. Within months, the plans were rearranged, and Hamilton was released streaming on the internet on Disney Plus in July.
But Israel, despite its reputation for innovation and flexible tactics, hasn’t managed to do the same for the Arik Einstein concert. Everyone understands that contract disputes happen, but there is a time to settle and get on with life.
During the pandemic, I find myself yearning to experience great performances before big audiences. I’ve found video of moving performances, such as when Sarit Haddad sang “Yerushalayim HaAkheret” at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, complete with the prime minister and the mayor singing along and bopping to the music. That too was a magical moment, and through some combination of good sense and dumb luck I managed to be close enough to experience it. I’m sure there are many others, maybe even a list somewhere.
We need to experience such moments now, and particularly the concert in honor of Arik Einstein. The urgency is of course to keep up national morale and discourage physical gatherings during a pandemic. But it goes beyond that. Yossi Klein Halevi has written in these pages about how Israeli music was what got him to really feel like an Israeli after his aliya from the United States 4 decades ago. Now, young American Jews are drifting off into their own world, and if Yossi Klein Halevi is correct, events such as the Arik Einstein concert could be a way of reaching out to them. They could feel that Israeli culture is part of their heritage, and not just experience Israel as a living museum to tour on “missions”. And they could discover what “shira b’tzibur” is all about, and a whole world of fun that belongs to them too.
The same level of determination that got Hamilton released to streaming needs to be marshalled to get the Arik Einstein concert released. Get Yossi Klein Halevi to mediate the contract dispute. Get some respected rabbi to do it. Just get it done. Show how resilient Israel can be and make the release of this concert one of the positive things to come out of the pandemic.