Burial of acclaimed Israeli guitarist proves difficult due to his non-Jewishness

Burial of acclaimed Israeli guitarist proves difficult due to his non-Jewishness

Ronnie Peterson will be laid to rest in a Catholic cemetery in Jaffa after wife of Tel Aviv mayor intervenes; funeral arrangements are underway

Ronnie Peterson plays at concert in the Jordan Valley on April 6, 2009. (Matanya Tausig/ Flash90)
Ronnie Peterson plays at concert in the Jordan Valley on April 6, 2009. (Matanya Tausig/ Flash90)

The wife of an acclaimed Israeli blues and rock musician who died suddenly on Monday said she had struggled to find a cemetery in Israel that would bury him because he wasn’t Jewish.

Ronnie Peterson, a guitarist sometimes hailed as the country’s “blues king,” died in his sleep early Monday at the age of 62. The German-born Peterson had been living and working in Israel since 1987, when he was recruited by Israeli rock legend Shalom Hanoch to play in his performances.

Nili Peterson early Tuesday expressed disappointment in a Facebook post that she had yet to make any funeral arrangements for her husband, a naturalized Israeli citizen, because no cemetery would agree to bury him.

“We’ve spent hours on the phone since yesterday trying to find a place to bury him, and since he wasn’t Jewish, we haven’t been able to find a suitable place that doesn’t cost tens of thousands of shekels,” she wrote in the post. “We’re waiting for a miracle.”

“It’s unbelievable to be in this situation,” she told the Calcalist daily in an interview later that day. “What does his religion matter? He gave to this country and he was a Zionist in his soul. Instead of trying to process the shock, I’m spending all my time making calls asking for help.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Nili Peterson announced that a solution had been found with the help of Yael Huldai, wife of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, and that Peterson will be buried in Jaffa’s Catholic cemetery. She said funeral arrangements were underway.

Peterson was born in Nuremberg, Germany to an American military father and German mother. By the age of 17, he was living in New York where he worked as a professional blues guitarist and recording artist.

In 1987, he caught the attention of Hanoch who was visiting New York and asked Peterson to join his “Rak Ben Adam” tour later that year. Peterson toured and recorded with Hanoch for years, before making Tel Aviv his permanent home in the mid-1990s.

As Peterson continued to work with Hanoch, he also pursued other projects as a producer and solo artist. During his decades-long career, he collaborated with the “who’s who” of Israel’s pop and rock stars, including Rita and Gidi Gov, Yuval Banay, Rami Kleinstein and Eyal Golan.

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