As an Israeli who was born and raised in the United States, few things were more important to me than formulating an Israeli identity. It was a strange complex, which, at its core, always strived to be “the most Israeli” possible (and always more Israeli than those who surrounded me). In our expat community, Israeliness was demonstrated in all sorts of way – there was (and still is) an Israeli scouts chapter, Israeli Remembrance Day and Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies, lectures on Israeli culture and history and a plethora of Zionist organizations that worked tirelessly to bring us a culture that we needed so badly. And me? I just wanted the music.
Every year, my cousins would bring me and my sister cassette tapes full of popular Israeli music. All kinds of things that I no longer connect to, but nonetheless gave me the feeling that I’m part of this place.
And for me, Arik Einstein was the greatest of them all. My cousins would bring us all of his tapes, which my family would bring along everywhere we traveled in the world. But all the Aviv Geffens, the Shlomo Artzis and the Subliminals, who I loved at different points in my life, don’t even come close to how Einstein’s songs became a part of me – a part of what I wanted to be.
Once, my grandfather bought me a VHS of Einstein singing his famous children songs. I remember watching it over and over again as I sat up close by the television. I memorized every song, every note. Sometimes my grandfather would join me, and I gladly accepted the risk of permanently damaging my eyes (which ended up happening anyway) in order to sit side-by-side with him on that green couch at my aunt and uncle’s home in Haifa.
Today I look at things a little bit differently. Arik Einstein just died and already my Facebook feed is full of people eulogizing him as the “beautiful Israeli” or “the best that this land had to offer.”
I don’t really know what a “beautiful Israeli” looks like, and I’m no longer sure how good something or someone is just because they grew up here, or anywhere else. What I do know is that those memories – the long drives with my family or the failed attempts at hiding my tears from my grandfather when the music video for “Uf Gozal” came on – they are some of the sweetest ones I have.