Israeli music legend Arik Einstein was buried Wednesday afternoon in the old Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv, accompanied by thousands of his devoted fans.
Prior to the funeral, his body lay in state in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, where thousands of people, including politicians and musicians, gathered to pay their last respects. Einstein was eulogized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and several of his close friends and collaborators. Musicians Shlomo Hanoch and Corinne Elal sang some of his songs.
Einstein's family had requested a private ceremony, without the presence of the media or the public. But the crowds of fans who accompanied the coffin from Rabin Square expected to be given access to the small and crowded cemetery, in which many of Israel's founders and early cultural icons are buried.
The scene outside the cemetery was frantic, with hundreds of people shouting, pushing and pleading to be allowed into the cemetery. Many climbed on the walls of the cemetery to view the ceremony inside and others filled balconies and rooftops in the neighborhood. Eventually, the public was allowed access to the grave site.
Einstein, born in 1939, died of an aortic aneurysm Tuesday night at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. He was hospitalized in critical condition and was placed on a respirator earlier that day, after which he was rushed to the operating room, where a team of cardiovascular surgeons tried unsuccessfully to save his life.
All through the night Einstein's fans gathered in Rabin Square, the city's traditional site of rallies and memorial events, and outside his home off Bogroshov Street in Tel Aviv. Many spent the night listening to the famous singer's songs, which were played non-stop on the radio ever since since the news of his passing.
Eulogizing Einstein, Netanyahu said: “Arik, I heard you sing ‘How much I love you, Israel.' Arik, how much we love you. I love you very much. We all grew up with your songs. We laughed at your skits. We appreciated your movies. Among such a people filled with great artists and singers, it’s not easy to say it, but its true – you were the best of them all.”
Musician Matti Caspi, who collaborated with Einstein throughout his career said: “This feeling is unclear, it hurts. It’s hard for me to believe that this is happening. With Arik’s passing, it’s as if the ground has fallen out from under us. I hope that there will be people wise enough to ensure that this part of our culture is not lost.”
Also eulogizing Einstein was Uri Zohar, a close friend and colleague in the early days who later found religion and adopted ultra-Orthodoxy. The two were also related; Einstein's daughter is married to Zohar's son.
“You lived in a world of good; you never could understand evil," Zohar said. "I want to comfort the widow – such devotion, such love; she never left you for a second. Your daughters, your son, you were proud. They didn’t want to talk to the media, just like you. They say you were great, how great. One small flame of oil – that was you. We know that you did so much good for so many people – not because you were a singer or an actor, but because you were a person.”
Einstein's coffin was brought to the central Tel Aviv square for a ceremony that began at 2:45 P.M. local time. The funeral procession left the square for Trumpeldor Cemetary at 3:15 P.M., accompanied by a large police presence. Several streets were closed during the procession, including Pinsker, Hebron, Idelson, the junction of Bograshov and Pinsker Streets, Zvi Bruk, Bar Kochba and Bernstein Hacohen Streets.
At Rabin Square, Eli Yosef, a teacher from Holon, left a note for the singer near a makeshift memorial of burnt out candles and flowers: “Arik, thanks for all the years you gave us.” Yosef said when he heard the announcement of Einstein’s death he was so shocked and saddened that he decided to come to his house, despite the fact that he was under the weather.
Yonah Yakir, who lives in south Tel Aviv, said this was not the first time she had visited this street. “I knew where he lived. Twenty years ago I came here with a friend and we left a bouquet of flowers on the doorstep. We wanted to knock but we thought it wasn’t polite. Two weeks ago I also came, I entered the building, I saw the ‘Einstein’ on the door but I didn’t have the courage to go up,” she said.
Hanna Herzig, who sat near Yakir by Einstein's house, came because she felt she needed to share the mourning with other people. “People my age raised their children on Arik Einstein. And now they are raising their children on the same songs," she said. "It is hard for me to accept that he is now in the past. Last night I couldn’t sleep, it saddened me, but I sat and listened to his songs. It is a sort of like being orphaned, even though I am not a little girl."
Einstein, she said, "was something positive, something clean," adding that he was among the last things most Israelis could agree on.
Another morning fan named Michal stood nearby. “I grew up here in the neighborhood, and I grew up on his songs," she said. "I came here to remember my childhood. Arik is a cultural asset, not like the horrible singers of today. He was modest - the salt of the earth.”