Arieh "Arik" Einstein (Hebrew: אריק איינשטיין, pronounced ˈaʁik ˈaɪnʃteɪn; 3 January 1939 - 26 November 2013) was an Israeli singer, songwriter, actor, and screenwriter. He was a pioneer of Israeli rock music and was named "the voice of Israel". Through both high public and critical acclamation, Einstein is regarded as the greatest, most popular, and most influential Israeli artist of all time.
An illustrious musical career that has spanned over 50 years saw Einstein recording over 500 songs and releasing, collaborating, and featuring in 34 albums, far more than any other Israeli musician. Through the years collaborated with many well-known Israeli singers and songwriters, including Shalom HanochYoni Rechter, and Shmulik Kraus. Einstein wrote many of his own songs and was a vocalist with The Churchills, Batzal Yarok and HaHalonot HaGvohim.
Arieh Leib Einstein was born and raised in Tel Aviv. His father, Yaakov, was an actor with the Ohel theater. Einstein was Israel's junior high jump and shot put champion. His father urged him to audition for an army entertainment troupe, and he was accepted into the Nahal Brigade troupe.
In 1963, Arieh Einstein married Alona Shochat in the hall of Habima Theater (where he was onstage in a production of Irma La Douce). After four years of marriage, during which their daughter Shiri was born, the couple divorced. A year later, in 1968, they remarried. Their daughter Yasmin was born in 1971. They divorced again in 1972. Alona Einstein died in 2006 from cancer. Arik Einstein's second wife was Sima Eliyahu, whom he met shortly before filming the movie Metzitzim in 1972. They had a daughter and a son: Dina and Amir.
Despite a successful career of acting and singing, Einstein was the shy type and a homebody. In one of his songs he sang that his greatest pleasure was staying home with a cup of lemon tea and his books, and in this he was sincere. In a candid interview that was shown on TV, he said that performing in front of big crowds was difficult for him (without the help of a few glugs of cognac beforehand). For this reason he ceased to perform public concerts from the year of 1981 and on, despite many attractive offers which in the late 1990s even reached seven figures. In 1982 he was hurt in a major car accident. His wife was also hurt, and another friend lost her life. Following the accident Einstein's eyesight, which was already myopic, got worse and he spent less and less time in public.
Early Years and Nahal Army Troupe:
Before joining the army, Einstein, a sports enthusiast and an athlete throughout his teenage years, was interested in becoming a military fitness instructor. However, due to his poor eyesight, his father encouraged him to try out for the army band. After a few auditions, Einstein was accepted to the prestigious and highly-regarded Nahal Brigade army band, which historically paved the way for many of Israel's most talented and successful musicians. Despite his shyness, Einstein's unique voice and singing was quickly noticed and he was picked soon thereafter to perform a few solo songs, with "Ruach Stav" ("Autumn Wind") the most prominent one.
Rise to Prominence:
In 1959, after his release from the IDF, Einstein joined the Green Onion band and the Sambation theatre. In 1960, he released his first solo album. He sang in a band under the pseudonym "Ari Goren". In the Yarkon Bridge Trio, he performed with Yehoram Gaon, Benny Amdursky and later Israel Gurion. In 1964, he played in the comedy film Sallah Shabbati, along with Chaim Topol, who was also from the Green Onion band.
The High Windows:
In 1966, Einstein joined The High Windows with Shmulik Kraus and Josie Katz. Their first album went on sale in April 1967, six weeks before the Six-Day War, signaling a new direction in Israeli rock and pop. The album achieved considerable commercial success and its popularity was felt even in parts of Western Europe, primarily France. After a few concerts in Europe Einstein left the group after one year in the wake of a professional disagreement with Kraus. At the heart of things, Einstein felt uncomfortable creating music for a European audience who cannot truly appreciate the richness of the lyrics after it went through translation to French. He believed that the Hebrew language was intrinsic to his music. When interviewed many years later and asked about that period in Europe Einstein stated "Performing in a different language? It's bullshit. We are Hebrew artists, why should we pretend otherwise?" Nevertheless, Einstein and Kraus remained close friends and would collaborate again in the future.
Two years later, Einstein released the album Mazal Gdi (Capricorn), which was not very successful. He therefore looked for a new sound and went on to produce the album Puzi with the Churchills, considered the first Israeli rock album. He stopped performing live in the early 1980s. He said: "I performed from the age of 18 until I was 42...I wasn't exactly a stage animal. I was held back by the embarrassment, the bashfulness, and it became more evident as the years went by... By the way, when I say bashfulness, I'm not proud of it... I wish I could grab a microphone and sing like a Sinatra, but I don't have what it takes, and a person should adapt to his capabilities. On the other hand, in the studio, I blossom. That's my natural habitat, where I'm not bashful. The problem is that this profession has its field mines: success is accompanied by fame and a form of adoration, and I really don't get along with that. That's where I draw the line. It's pleasant to be loved, but not more." For those who knew Einstein this came as no surprise. Einstein was regarded as a very humble and modest musician who focused solely on the artistic and creative aspect of the musical world and actively shied away from the lime-light, fame, and the entertainment business. This was also evident much later in his career when he preferred to collaborate with lesser known and younger musicians as the lifestyle and obsession with fame of more prominent artists did not suit his style.
"The Old and Good Land of Israel" Albums:
In 1973, Einstein turned to renewal of old Hebrew songs written mostly in the first half of the 20th century. Until the mid-1990s, in parallel to releasing his own original albums, Einstein concurrently released a series of albums under the name "The Old and Good Land of Israel" which encompassed a multitude of genres - songs of the homeland from the beginning of Jewish settlement to the "Ballroom" songs from the 50s - using modern adaptations with musicians such as Shem-Tov Levi, Yoni Rechter and Avner Kenner. According to him, he did it not for the perpetuation of the songs, but simply because he loved to sing them.
1990s and 2000s:
In 2004, Einstein released Shtei Gitarot Bas Tupim (Two Guitars, Bass, Drums). He sang a duet with David D'Or on D'Or's CD, Kmo HaRuach ("Like the Wind") released on 27 March 2006. In 2010, Einstein was the most played artist on radio stations in Israel, according to Israeli Musical artist organisation, ACUM (אקו"ם). In 2011, he released a new song in honor of the return of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. "You'll always be a hero," Einstein sings. "You are allowed to cry. It's not simple at all, to forgive fate."
The "Lool Gang" and the Album with Hanoch:
Einstein was part of the early 1970s TV series Lool (Chicken Coop), a sketch-and-song show with an original format and cast known as the "Lool Gang" ("Havurat Lool"). Lool featured songs written by prominent Hebrew poets performed by some of the best singers Israel has ever produced, including Einstein, Shmulik Kraus, Shalom Hanoch, Miki Gavrielov, and many more. It conceptualized the liberal bohemian wave that had reached Tel Aviv by the late 1960s and gave way to exceptional artistry and performance as seen in "Lool". The creative think-tank of that group (and the director of many of skits) was Uri Zohar, one of the most brilliant comedians, actors, and performers in Israeli history, previously regarded as Israel's "King of the Seculars and Bohemians" and Einstein's closest friend. In a move that shocked much of the public, Zohar left the entertainment industry in the late 1970s to become a Rabbi, and today is one of the most prominent religious figures in Israel. Einstein greatly admired Zohar but even for him such drastic change was not easy to comprehend, as was evident in a song Einstein dedicated to Zohar's religious transformation called "Hoo Chazar be'Tshuva" ("He Made a Tshuva).
Despite the fact that it had only four episodes, it remains a cult show to this day with many of its skits regarded as timeless Israeli classics.Lool showcased Einstein as both a top-of-the-line singer and comedian.
In May 1970, the film "Shablool" ("Snail") was released, serving as a continuation to "Lool", consisting of a series of sketches coupled with songs. These songs formed the joint album of Einstein and Shalom Hanoch, "Snail", released the same year. The album is considered one of the most influential albums in Israeli rock, and many have chosen it as the greatest Israeli rock album of all time. Hanoch composed all the songs and wrote almost all of them.
Benjamin Netanyahu said of Einstein "Arik, you are Israel. The beautiful and charming Israel that we all grew up to adore."
In 2009, Haaretz columnist Ariel Hirschfeld wrote: "Arik Einstein's well-known reclusiveness, his ordinariness, his averseness to pomposity and grandiosity, his modest way of belonging to this place - these should not hide from those living here the fact that he is a very great and profound artist, with an acute artistic conscience, perfect and totally unique."
A prominent music critic, Yoav Kutner, described Einstein stating "Arik Einstein is more than the greatest Israeli artist of all time. Einstein is the real Israel himself."
On 26 November 2013, Einstein died age 74 after a ruptured thoracic aortic aneurysm. He arrived at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center unconscious after he collapsed at his home earlier in the day. His hospitalization in the hours leading up to his death was closely monitored and reported by every news network in Israel with all three major news channels broadcasting the developments as "breaking news" for hours. At the news of Einstein's death, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement describing his songs as the "soundtrack of Israel." President Shimon Peres stated that he was beloved for his voice that "came from the depths" and his songs would "continue playing life and hope" long after him. He was buried in Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv. Prior to the funeral, his body lay in state in Rabin Square, where thousands gathered to pay their respects.
Einstein's funeral was attended by tens of thousands of people, including the Prime Minister, Israel's leading artists and musicians, and hundreds of friends and family. The burial was lead by one of his closest friends Uri Zohar, a former Israeli film director, actor, and comedian who became a prominent rabbi and with whom Einstein has 17 common grandchildren (two of Einstein's daughters became orthodox and married Zohar's oldest sons).