The inexorable march of time perforce depletes the ranks of the eminent hierarchs who once proliferated in this country’s cultural setting. The most recent to depart was iconic Palmach songwriter and Israel Prize laureate (1983) Haim Hefer, who passed away on the second day of this new year.
Hefer’s output was near-omnipresent in numerous niches of our communications and entertainment spheres. Nevertheless, compared to other titans – like the late Natan Alterman, who modernized the Hebrew idiom and cadences – Hefer was a relative lightweight. His material was easy to digest and he was popular with the establishment and thus assured resonance and recognition.
It’s an undeniable fact, though, that as the last of yesteryear’s household names disappear, so the heart chords are tugged ever harder and the sendoff is accompanied by ever greater tributes, longings and wistfulness.
We know that decades of unparalleled originality, inspiration and ingenuity are now consigned formally to the past. The outpouring of pioneering creativity is already the stuff of nostalgia, but the death of each of the few remaining superstars from the golden age of the country’s artistic burgeoning adds another stamp of grim formality to the relentless process.
So it is incontrovertibly with Hefer. His absence serves to underscore how much more impoverished our culture has become since the days of the legendary Founding Fathers and of the homegrown generations of literati that followed hot on their heels – just before and after the establishment of the state.
There’s still a great deal of hubbub in Israel’s artistic cliques, but the buzz is about pseudo-creativity and formulaic superficiality. The great outpourings of ideas and emotions wane steadily. This is true both of fashionable lyrics and flatline music. With little depth, clichés abound.
This betokens a cultural/spiritual void. The greatness of Alterman, Naomi Shemer, Hefer and others of their day is plainly not equaled. As our energies are focused on material comforts and as the venue of creativity shifts to cyberspace, no one today can claim worthiness of the mantle that Hefer so ably donned for so long.
This isn’t just the sad way things are in the world of Israeli songwriting and popular culture. It permeates everywhere. Ideology appears as passé in our mainstream as the study of literature and history appear in our creed-deficient institutions of higher learning.
We may argue that this isn’t unique to us, but is the way of the entire Western civilization. Our situation isn’t, however, anywhere as secure as that of other sated and smug societies. In Hefer’s own words (from his lesser known lyrics, The Safest Place in the World), we are surrounded by enemies who bay for our blood:
They hate us without justification.
“They aren’t human,” is their vindication.
With bloodlust in their eyes,
They hound us with their lies.
They call for their hour of revenge.
To throw us in the sea they pledge.
In such an environment we cannot afford to stray as far from our articles of faith and from trust in our cause as our counterparts in fellow democracies presume (not always rightly) that they can.
We may never again see a generation of giants like the one to which Hefer belonged and which is almost gone from our midst, but we mustn’t consider the giants’ strength of mind obsolete. We need their stirring resilience to bolster our own fortitude in the face of the tempests raging relentlessly all around us.
Hefer never minced words and could be bluntly controversial. He didn’t always aim to please and certainly not to make nice. But perhaps, precisely with that in mind, we ought to memorize his confidence in Israel’s future, beleaguered though it is:
There are countries so serene,
Where there’s no Fatah and no Fedayeen,
Where folks can sleep at night
With no reserve duty or call to fight,
Where they can leisurely make a living
And enjoy good times each evening.
But if you pardon a little Zionism,
We will seriously insist…
And of all of you entreat
That you send out word
That ours is the safest place in the world.