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Israel mourns Arik Einstein, one of its most celebrated musicians

A fan lays a flower on the coffin of legendary Israeli singer Arik Einstein during his public funeral service in Tel Aviv (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM -- For many fans, Arik Einstein was the “soundtrack of Israel,” the singer-songwriter who defined his country’s best aspirations. Einstein was a crooner who sparked Israeli rock n’ roll. He died Tuesday night, at the age of 74, of a ruptured aneurysm.

Chemi Shalev at Haaretz newspaper called him “our Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Bruce Springsteen all rolled into one.” Shalev wrote:

He was our comrade in arms, our partner in life, our guide to a brave new world. He gave us our first pop combo, our first supergroup, our first Hebrew rock and roll, our first protest songs, our first rebellion, our first defiance, our first taste of forbidden fruit, our first detoxification from the constrained and conservative Mapainik dogma that governed every part of our lives. He was a beach bum in Tel Aviv, a connoisseur of wine, women and song, a voracious consumer of Lebanese hashish before we knew what that was.

Einstein, whose career spanned six decades, recorded more than 40 solo albums and starred in countless movies and television shows. He rose to fame in the 1960s, when Israel was still a young country searching for its own identity.

Thousands of Israelis -- including the country’s political and media elite -- poured into Rabin Square in Tel Aviv Wednesday to pay their respects and a public funeral service, as Israeli radio stations played his songs nonstop.

Einstein is probably best remembered as a balladeer, a master at bittersweet love songs. Israelis of a certain age can date their past romances -- and heartbreak -- by his songs.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke at the service, said, “When you say Arik Einstein, you say the Land of Israel.” Netanyahu, who added photos of the star to his Facebook page, said he knew the words to Einstein's songs and could even be coaxed to offer a stiff rendition.

Einstein’s hits offered lyrics that are still embedded in the Israeli psyche, such as “You and I will change the world,” from the song “Ani Ve’atta,” and “Fly Little Bird,” about leaving the nest and spreading wings, a video of which is embedded below:

Born in Tel Aviv in 1939, Einstein stopped performing in public in the early 1980s but continued to record new music and remained quietly involved in the industry.

“He wrote his songs during our difficult days and during our uplifting moments," said Israeli President Shimon Peres "I loved his songs, and knew what many others know: there was no one else like him."

Ruth Eglash is a reporter for The Washington Post based in Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media.

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