The modern state of Israel is a young nation, even if Israel has been around for millennia since the days of the Bible. So many of Israel’s fundamental and most famous public figures have lived their lives in our lifetimes. One of these is this week’s Israeli you should know, Arik Einstein. Considered Israel’s most popular and influential musical figure, Einstein is still mourned and still considered the above title: the voice of Israel.
Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Arik Einstein’s first love was athletics. He was junior champion of Israel in both the high jump and shot put, while also playing for a professional basketball team. When readying for his mandatory IDF service, Einstein hoped to put his athletic prowess to use as a military fitness instructor. Alas, his poor eyesight kept him from this path, but started him down another when he successfully tried out for the IDF’s prestigious band.
The Nahal Brigade army band has long created careers for Israel’s best musicians, and Arik Einstein’s career started much the same way. Einstein was a shy boy, but despite this, his singing talent was recognized and featured.
After his IDF service was over, Einstein joined a group called The Green Onion Band, which also featured Topol, who would go on to fame when he starred in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof.
In the 1960s, Einstein joined The High Windows. Their first album went on sale shortly before the Six-Day War, and was thus the soundtrack of a new Israel. It also received some success in Europe, although Einstein refused to sing in any language other than Hebrew, his mother tongue, as he argued, “We are Hebrew artists, why should we pretend otherwise?”
Einstein continued his career as a solo artist, and as a humble man who stayed away from the limelight and the trappings of fame, only concerned with his art. But just as The Beatles were the music of a generation of English-speaking children as they grew up, so was Einstein the voice of a generation of Israelis (even if he performed a Beatles song as heard above).
So when Einstein passed away in 2013 at the age of 74, the entire nation of Israel mourned him. PM Netanyahu called him “the soundtrack of Israel” and President Shimon Peres said that Einstein’s songs would “continue playing life and hope.” But perhaps Netanyahu said it best when he said:
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“Arik, you are Israel. The beautiful and charming Israel that we all grew up to adore.”