Remembering Arik Einstein, Who Helped Change the World A Little Bit

by Alona Nir

One of the names that will be mentioned at the URJ Biennial this week is Arik Einstein. Those of us who spent time in Jewish activities during our childhood, especially in NFTY or at summer camp, are familiar with famous song Ani Ve Ata Neshane Et Ha’Olam,” which translates to “You and Me Will Change the World.” Maybe you’re also familiar with “Oof Gozal,” “Little Chick Fly Away.”

Einstein passed away on the first night of Hanukkah, at the end of November. He was 74. I got the news immediately when my sister texted me, and seconds later, my Facebook feed was filled with friends’ grief. The Hebrew word atzuv (sad) was all over the internet, with Israeli radio stations changing their playlists to songs of the late singer.

What was so special about Einstein? I think it was his ability to combine “high” art, like famous Hebrew poems, with pop art and to speak to his audience, adults and kids alike, on their level. Einstein wasn’t only a singer; he was an actor, as well, and one of the pioneers of the new Israeli movie industry. One of the most famous clips he created was with his close friend Uri Zohar, making brilliant satire of how each new wave of olim (immigrants) has been welcomed with negativity by the previous generation.

It was a bit different from the official Zionist “all is perfect” approach, and of course, it was fresh and daring in those days in Israel. It was made in the 1970s, so it’s in black and white and is a bit slow, but I’m sure you will get the ambience of it (there are partial subtitles that explain what you see and hear). The curse that every generation repeats (“Ina’l babur a din ili jabur”) is an Arabic phrase that means “May the ship that brought them be cursed.” In this seven-minute clip, Einstein is the taller of the two performers; a decade later, his friend Uri Zohar became an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi.  In this news piece from Ynet, Rabbi Zohar cries over Einstein at the funeral.

If I were planning to use this story as inspiration for an educational program, especially with Jewish teens, I would ask them, “What does it mean to leshanot et ha’olam, to change the world?” The way I see it, maybe one of the ways is to treat “the other” (whether “the other” is a newcomer or someone who just belongs to a different group than you do) as you would like others to treat yourself. Watching the movie, I think that it is exactly what Einstein meant to convey. Because the message was funny yet realistic and direct, people could relate to it – but it also made them think about how they were behaving with the “others” in their lives. I like to think that, maybe, thanks to Arik Einstein and Uri Zohar, a small change was made by “Ani Ve Ata.”

יהי זכרו ברוך. May his memory be a blessing.

Alona Nir is the central shlicha (emissary) for the URJ and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). Alona has been working in the field of (informal) Jewish education for more than 15 years, starting as a licensed tour guide for Jewish Teens from around the world. For the last four years, she has been the director of Neshama, a semester-long program in Israel for seniors of a conservative day school from New Jersey. She received her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Alona has just finished her 3rd year as a rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and lives with her partner, Yael, in Manhattan.

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