Arik Einstein, Singing 'Father' to Millions, Leaves Decades of Memories

Iconic Singer Provided a 'Soundtrack to Israeli Life'

Father To Us All: Immediate reactions to singer Arik Einstein’s death at the age of 74 showed how deeply enmeshed he was in Israel’s cultural identity.
getty images
Father To Us All: Immediate reactions to singer Arik Einstein’s death at the age of 74 showed how deeply enmeshed he was in Israel’s cultural identity.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It may be the ultimate testament to Arik Einstein, the Israeli pop singer who died November 26 at age 74, that there won’t be an ultimate testament. He was too deeply enmeshed in the fabric of too many Israelis’ ordinary lives for any one tribute to capture him.

He was Israel’s most beloved entertainer and one of its most influential. His career spanned more than a half-century and generated 44 solo albums in a range of genres from folk to pop ballads, classic rock and old-time nostalgia. He recorded what’s considered the first album of true Israeli rock ’n’ roll, in 1969, wrenching Israel away from its accordion-backed cornball musical culture almost single-handedly — and then led a revival of the old campfire songs starting in 1973 with a series of albums called “Good Old Eretz Yisrael.” His musical collaborations helped launch the careers of some of Israel’s most influential pop composers, several of whom remained his close, lifelong friends.

And yet, when Israelis began to sum up Einstein’s career in the hours after his sudden death from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, there was little in the way of thoughtful review or analysis. The commentary consisted mostly of personal statements of loss, as though every Israeli had lost a close friend. Writers known for their eloquence and insight seemed strangely without words.

“Arik Einstein was, first and last, a father,” Haaretz columnist Uri Misgav wrote. “The father of Hebrew song, of Hebrew pop and Hebrew rock. One of the founding fathers of contemporary Hebrew culture. Hence, as much as he would hate the cliché, he was the father of us all. No wonder that the immediate reactions to the awful news, from every direction, transmitted a single feeling: orphanhood.”

And in New York, the Israeli-born author and arts critic Liel Leibovitz began a lyrical essay in the online journal Tablet with these harsh words: “I have nothing to say to you about Arik Einstein. I’m sorry to sound like a pr**k, but you wouldn’t get it.”

The thing that was hardest for an outsider to get about Einstein was his essential Israeliness. Those of us who didn’t grow up in Israel but came to it as adults, or watched it from afar, could see but not really feel what he meant to young Israelis in the state’s early years. Only by immersing yourself in Israel’s daily life for years could you feel his presence.

Born to a theater family in Tel Aviv in 1939, active in his teens in the socialist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, he did his military service in Lahakat Ha-Nahal, the entertainment troupe of the kibbutz-based Pioneering and Fighting Youth Corps. The Nahal troupe was just then emerging as the incubator of a generation of top Israeli pop stars, and young Einstein was the biggest.

Entering the Tel Aviv arts scene in the early 1960s, he worked as a comic actor as well as a singer, forming and dissolving a series of acclaimed but short-lived bands and appearing with friends in a handful of memorable, Beatlesque films and television shows. He released his first solo album in 1966. By 1970 he was Israel’s superstar, and remained so.

Tall and lanky, golden-throated, handsome in an everyman sort of way, the Arik Einstein persona that evolved in those early years was the face of a new, carefree generation emerging from the austere, disciplined Israel of the founders. There had been fun-loving hedonists in Tel Aviv before, bohemians like Dahn Ben-Amotz and Uri Avnery, rebels against the strait-laced mainstream. Einstein and his comrades, by contrast, became the new mainstream.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.