Arik Einstein, the iconic Israeli musician whose songs were acclaimed as the soundtrack of a nation, was laid to rest at the Trumpeldor cemetery in Tel Aviv Wednesday afternoon after his sudden death Tuesday night at the age of 74.
The funeral began at 4 p.m. with the reading of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, as fans gathered on surrounding rooftops to watch the proceedings.
Pain and sorrow were evident on the faces of the mourners who remained at the cemetery long after the service, praying, singing, and lighting candles even as the holiday of Hanukkah began with sundown.
“You only lived the good, you could not understand the bad,” eulogized his close friend Rabbi Uri Zohar as he choked back his tears.
“Through your songs we saw your soul. You made so many people happy,” he added. “Not only in front of crowds, but also in front of one solitary person. Even if it was a man in an old age home.”
Before Zohar became a rabbi, he and Einstein collaborated on a number of movie projects.
Earlier in the afternoon, thousands of people, including the prime minister, gathered in Tel Aviv to pay their last respects. Einstein’s body lay in state in Rabin Square on a platform decked out in mourning black at the center of which his coffin, draped in black, stood surrounded by red flowers.
A scarf from the Hapoal Tel Aviv soccer team, of which Einstein was a well-known and dedicated fan, was placed on the coffin.
Led by his friend Shalom Hanoch, musicians staged a concert in his memory for the thousnads who had crowded into the square.
At about 4 p.m. his body was moved to the city’s Trumpeldor cemetery.
Among those who arrived was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who filed past Einstein’s coffin and consoled family members and friends of the singer. “You were a wonderful artist,” Netanyahu said at the funeral. “You were a wonderful man.”
As the crowd of mourners swelled, those present joined in singing some of Einstein’s songs.
For hours afterwards in Rabin Square, dozens of mainly young Israelis sat amid candles and sang Einstein’s songs.
Einstein was rushed to Ichilov hospital at around 10 p.m. Tuesday and died soon after of an aortic aneurysm, doctors said.
“We tried to operate on him but our attempts failed; he got here in too serious a condition,” hospital director Gabriel Barabash said. “There is nobody to sing for us anymore.”
The death of Einstein, whose career spanned six decades and included 44 albums and hundreds of collaborations, was met with an outpouring of grief.
Fellow veteran Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi, who was playing a concert in Tel Aviv when news broke of Einstein’s death, halted the show after playing “Ha’ish Hahu” (That Man) as a tribute. He said later that he’d played the whole show knowing Einstein was in the hospital, and started crying on stage when the news came. “He was one hell of a person,” said Artzi. “We lost a piece of ourselves.”
Vigils formed outside Ichilov hospital, on the street below Einstein’s Tel Aviv apartment and at Rabin Square. At his home on Hovevei Zion Street in the city center, some neighbors argued that the spontaneous gathering — including mourning candles and flowers, with passing cars blaring Einstein’s music — was the last thing the very private singer would have wanted. Others spoke of needing to come to the house to show their respect and affection for him.
Television channels halted their regular programming to broadcast clips and remembrances of the singer. Radio stations switched to all-Einstein soundtracks.
“We all grew up on his songs.The words of Arik Einstein were the words of the land of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement posted to Facebook. “Arik was a wonderful musician and a wonderful man. … I loved him very much. Israel bids farewell with great sadness to a giant of culture who will be missed. My wife and I are greatly pained by his passing.”
Einstein’s wife, Sima Eliyahu, and close friends, including a number of fellow musicians, were with him at the hospital.
“It’s the death of a father,” said Yehudit Ravitz, who sang backing vocals on some of Einstein’s songs early in her career. “He’s been part of my life since I was five years old.”
“This is terribly sad,” actor Haim Topol, a friend, told Ynet. “He was a happy kid, joking, funny. … There is no replacement. He was one of the greatest musicians in Israel. For decades he sang songs, sang from his heart, wrote some of them. I mean with every word that he was a singer. There are no singers like that today.”
Einstein, born in Tel Aviv in 1939, is considered the godfather of Israeli rock. He wrote classics like “Ani Ve’ata” (Me and You), “Uf Gozal” (Fly Little Bird) and “Sa Le’at” (Drive Slow).
Einstein had not performed in front of an audience since the early 1980s following a road accident in which he was seriously injured, and he rarely left his home. But he continued to record, had just begun writing a column for the Maariv daily, and was at work on a new album when he died.
His first album, “Shar Bishvilech” or “Singing for You,” was released in 1966. He was then part of the rock band The High Windows with Shmulik Kraus and Israeli-American Josie Katz. He later formed the Lool, or Chicken Coop, comedy troupe, and excelled as a light comic actor alongside his lifelong friend Uri Zohar. Einstein’s two eldest daughters became Orthodox and married two sons of Zohar, who had also become newly observant. In an indication of Einstein’s across-the-board appeal, several ultra-Orthodox radio stations were also playing his music on Wednesday.
A number of commentators noted that Einstein exemplified a number of international superstars, including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Elvis, rolled into one.
“Einstein was the embodiment of the new, liberal, secular Israel that we once thought we would be,” Chemi Shalev wrote in an appreciation in Haaretz. “He was the quintessential, apolitical, fun-loving king of Tel Aviv decades before the city became so hot and trendy. A superstar by anyone’s standard, he remained shy, modest and unassuming until his very last day.”
“He was our Frank Sinatra,” singer Israel Gurion told Ynet. “He was just a tremendous man. I still can’t process it. We went a long way together.”
President Shimon Peres said Einstein’s music was “a soundtrack to the whole nation.”
“He moved the both earliest generations and the newer ones. Nobody questioned the depth of his feeling. The nation drank thirstily his beloved voice, which flowed from the depths,” Peres said in a statement. “Also in his death, his songs will continue to play to life and hope.”