For the many generations of Israelis, Arik Einstein is a legend. Even almost a decade after his death in 2013, people still play his songs and sing along with them, keeping his legacy alive. At times, his songs were tender and full of pain, at times humorous, and sometimes frenzied. Yet, somehow, Einstein’s music managed to resonate with every Israeli, no matter their status in life.
At the time of Einstein’s sudden death, the trailblazing singer-songwriter left behind a vast catalog that spanned almost six decades. But despite his superstar status, Einstein mostly kept a low profile. His gentle baritone moved across his songs that reflected his early life in Tel Aviv, his humility, his optimism, and his love for life.
Through his songs, Einstein left a legacy of transcending different cultures to inspire millions of Israelis in everything they do, join them in times of pain and suffering, and give them hope when they need it most. His songs reflect Israel itself.
Find out more about the Israeli cultural icon Arik Einstein in this article.
Early life and career
Arik Einstein was born Arieh Lieb Einstein on January 3, 1939, in Tel Aviv, Mandatory Palestine (now Israel), the son of a local theater actor. An only child, Arik’s first love was sports. When he was a teenager, Einstein was Israel’s junior high jump and shot put champion. He also played basketball suited for Hapoel Tel Aviv B.C.
Einstein later joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). But unfortunately, he was considered unfit for the frontlines due to his poor eyesight. Einstein’s father encouraged him to join the army band instead. After a handful of auditions, Einstein was accepted to the prestigious Nahal Brigade Army Band. This is where he discovered his musical talent. Despite his shyness, Einstein’s unique baritone singing voice was quickly noticed. As a result, he was chosen to perform a handful of solo songs, including “Ruach Stav” (“Autumn Wind”).
Some sources claim that he joined a musical group called the Green Onion Band while he was still in the IDF. Other sources say that he did the same after he was discharged from the IDF in 1959. Whatever the case, this would be the start of Einstein’s long, fruitful, and illustrious show business career, an unusual career route for a shy and introverted young man.
Einstein released his first solo album in 1960. He also sang in a band under the stage name “Ari Goren,” and later joined a vocal group Yarkon Bridge Trio. In 1964, he was cast in the movie Shallah Shabbati, directed by Ephraim Kishon and produced by Menahem Golan. The film also starred Chaim Topol, who was also from the Green Onion Band (Topol later went to international recognition for his role as Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof, in both stage and film).
Rise to prominence
Einstein, together with Shmulik Kraus and Josie Katz, joined the pop group The High Windows in early 1967, and this is where he attained his first major musical success. The trio released their self-titled debut and only studio LP in April 1967, only six weeks before the Six-Day War erupted.
Despite being The High Windows’ only album, it became one of the milestones of Israeli pop music (a re-mastered and re-released edition of the album attained platinum sales status in Israel in 2007).
The High Windows’ music enjoyed success in Israel and even across Europe. Despite that, Einstein left the group after one year, citing creative issues and professional disputes with the other band members. He was not happy with the way their music was being distributed for the European audience when translated into different languages. He believed that the Hebrew language was intrinsic to his music, and cited that foreign audiences could not appreciate the richness of the lyrics after being translated.
After leaving The High Windows, Einstein returned to being a solo artist, releasing the album Mazal Gdi under the Capricorn label. It was not a success. As he was looking for a new sound, Einstein went on to produce the album Puzi (or Poozy) with the Israeli psychedelic rock band The Churchills, who contributed half of the instrumentals. Today, this album is considered the first true Israeli rock album. The Churchills went on to release three more albums with Einstein as their singer.
Around the same time, Einstein also focused on his acting. In the early 1970s, Einstein was involved in a short-lived television series Lool (Chicken Coop) as part of the “Havurat Lool” (Lool Gang). Although the show aired only four episodes, it has attained cult status and is now regarded as a classic in Israeli television. Lool consisted of comic sketches and songs, featuring singers performing classic Israeli songs written by prominent Israeli poets and laureates.
From the early 1970s on, Einstein devoted his performing career to reviving old Hebrew songs, most of which were written during the first half of the 20th century. Einstein would release a series of albums under the name “The Old and Good Land of Israel” – containing songs written from the beginning of the Jewish settlement to the “ballroom” songs of the 1950s – together with releasing his own original albums. He would continue to do this type of arrangement until the 1990s.
Later life and career
After performing for a living for almost three decades, Einstein decided to stop doing live performances for good. At this time, it was revealed that throughout his entire performing career he had suffered from stage fright, which he never overcame, and did not wish to go on stage anymore even as he was receiving offers to perform on the stage (some of these offers reached seven figures).
Instead, he concentrated on making music and being in the recording studio, which he referred to as his “natural habitat.” Despite not performing on the live stage anymore, Einstein continued to find success in his career, making music late into his life. He released his final studio album, Kol Ha Tov Shebaolam (All the Good Things in the World), in 2007. In 2010, he was the most played artists in most Israeli radio stations.
On November 26, 2013, Arik Einstein died after collapsing in his home only hours prior. His hospitalization in the hours leading up to his death was closely monitored and widely covered by every major media organization in Israel. His funeral was attended by tens and thousands of people, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that Einstein’s songs were the “soundtrack of Israel.”
During his lifetime, Einstein released 36 studio albums, six EPs, and eight singles, as well as albums with acts he was a member of. He also worked with several other artists, often sharing credits on their albums.