All morning, the radio stations have been playing Arik Einstein’s songs. Song after song, one after the other. You listen and you marvel at how this one singer managed to singlehandedly create “Israeli culture.” That’s really what he did. We’re all always looking for that definition, for that glue that binds us. And this man, this modest man without a shred of presumption, found the elusive formula known as “Israeliness.” Almost by accident, he became Israel’s national singer.
Still, for me, what mattered was less that he was everyone’s singer and more that he was mine. More specifically, Arik Einstein was the singer for all the loves of my life.
Einstein’s voice, his aching, reassuring voice, at once fragile and dependable, accompanied me through most every milestone of my romantic life. Certainly those major romances whose impacts still linger.
I remember, first, his record “On the Grass at Avigdor’s,” which I played over and over to M, a beautiful young girl in my high school class, in the hope that his words of love — “I See Her on the Way to the Gymnasium” — would convey my feelings to her. They did not. My love went unrequited.
There was also the film “Metzitzim,” starring Einstein, that I watched dozens if not hundreds of times. I tried time after time to make a special impression on M by quoting whole sections of the dialogue. Again, without success. I learned that girls (at least the ones that I loved) aren’t particularly impressed with movie obsessives.
Next came T, whom I loved in those difficult, impossible days in the army. When you can’t meet with her or even talk to her, only long for her.
His songs would sneak onto the little radio we had from time to time, to break me and reduce me to tears, until the next home leave and long-awaited reunion. “How good it is that you have come home,” she would sing to me, courtesy of Arik.
As the months passed and I was lucky enough to serve alongside an amateur guitarist, we’d make him pull out his instrument every evening and sing to us again, songs like “I Love You Today”:
“Soon, everyone will go. The two of us will be able to be alone/ You will make a last cup of tea, I will read you funny things from the newspaper/ And afterwards will we listen to a Randy Newman record…”
Then there was the particularly chilling time, after one of those incidents that the mind tries to forget to this day, when we were on our way back to base and suddenly there was Arik’s voice on the radio singing, so gently, with that simple accompaniment, “A Song for After War”:
“An old fashioned song, a song of soldiers returning after combat, a song of the love who awaits you, someone sang it before/ This is a song for after war. It always reminds me of hope. She is waiting for her love to come back already. This is a song that came after the war.”
Later, there was a long trip abroad and thoughts of L, left far behind. Even as I soared across the skies of the US, I listened on my Walkman (there once was such a thing) to this song, “We’ll Meet Again”:
“A longing came to see you, to hug you… What I am going through is more than words. Everything is here, but you are not.”
The years went past and along came A, and I tried to explain to her in near desperation that we were destined to be together. “I have love inside me, and it will succeed,” I insisted, quoting Einstein, of course. But she would not be swayed. Even he could not win her over.
Arik accompanied not only my romances and those of my generation, but also those of the generation that preceded me and the one that came next. How do I know? Because then came the great love of my life, Liah, who by age three had learned how to select “Bending Bananas” on the music player and begun her dizzying dance for the camera. The video is on YouTube; to this day I can’t understand why it hasn’t had more views than “Gangnam Style.”
So in my name and hers, my princess, let me say, for the last time, Thank you, Arik.
His voice will continue to accompany us, through joy and through heartbreak.