Israeli poet and song-writer Haim Hefer, dies at 86

Haim Hefer, z"l

Israeli national poet Haim Hefer, z”l

One of Israel’s most iconic and famous national poets, Haim Hefer, passed away on Rosh Hashana at the age of 86.

Poet, songwriter, filmmaker and playwright Haim Hefer, one of the icons of Israeli culture, died on the second day of Rosh Hashana at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, after a long illness. His funeral will take place on Wednesday.

A prolific songwriter and poet whose works are at the foundation of Israel’s national cultural treasure, Hefer for many years wrote poems based on current events for Yediot Aharonot.

Born in Sosnowiec, Poland, in 1925, he came to British Mandate Palestine in 1936, and at age 17 joined the Hagana.

He helped to smuggle illegal immigrants through Syria and Lebanon. He was the founder the Palmah’s military entertainment unit Chizbatron, which was the forerunner of the IDF entertainment units.

His imprint on Israeli culture earned him the Israel Prize for Hebrew song in 1983.

A gruff, straight from the shoulder personality, Hefer was the darling of radio and television interviewers because he had no compunction about telling it like it was whether he was talking about events that happened before the creation of the state, the early years of the state or current affairs.

Among his most popular songs were “The Last War,” “He Didn’t Know Her Name” and “Yes, It’s Possible.” Another of his songs, “The Red Rock,” made popular by performer Arik Lavi, was initially banned because it was thought that it would encourage adventurous Israelis to make dangerous, illegal excursions to Petra in Jordan.

The songs he wrote never went out of style, and were frequently played not only on radio musical programs, but as background to radio and television documentaries.

Hefer’s father had made sure while they still living in Poland that his son would receive a good Hebrew education, but when the family settled in Ra’anana, the other children mocked the Polish newcomer because he did not speak colloquial Hebrew. His Hebrew was far more classical, and some of the expressions he used were already passé. He eventually overcame this obstacle and found his place in Israel’s entertainment world and in mainstream society.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who was among the many who expressed regret at Hefer’s death, issued a statement saying that his work embodied the spirit of Israel’s struggle for independence, the heroism of its soldiers and the nation’s yearning for peace. It was difficult to imagine Israeli culture without Hefer’s songs, Saar stated, adding that he has instructed the Education Ministry to include his contribution to Israeli culture in school curricula.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich also expressed her regret, adding that his work has had a deep impact on the language, culture and humor of the state of Israel, and in this way, “he will stay with us always.”

Here is his iconic song Hasela Ha’adom (the Red Rock) referred to in the story above.

Here is a translation of the evocative lyrics, via the Hebrew Songs website.

Across mountains and the desert
the stories say, there’s a place
that a living person has not yet returned from,
and it’s called the red rock.
Oh, the red – red – rock.

Three went on the way with the sunset,
against the the mountains’ red scorching,
an old dream, a map and a water-bottle
they did take to the red rock.
Oh, the red – red – rock.

The first went (as) navigator, lifting his face,
looking at the stars up high,
but the view that his eyes saw –
was the view of the red rock
Oh, the red – red – rock.

Surely, they encamped some time
between stones,
one said, like smiting a dream:
I see – its face is white.
His mates answered: the red rock.
Oh, the red – red – rock.

The sun – revolving, beating their heads
and they breathed the hot, desert dust
and suddenly – as though by freezing
it silenced them –
they did see the red rock.
Oh, the red – red – rock.

The shooting salvo was short.
One groaned, I’m wounded and he went silent.
His mates answered with a mouthful of ash:
we have arrived at the red rock.
Oh, the red – red – rock.

Across mountains and the desert
the stories say, there’s a place
that a living person has not yet returned from,
and it’s called the red rock.
Oh, the red – red – rock.

Baruch Dayan Emet, Poet Laureate of Israel.

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