Ehud Manor, 1941-2005

'Someone in heaven is planning a major production and was short a writer,' a close friend said. The doyen of sabra songwriters left behind countless unfinished projects.

Ehud Manor, much-loved composer and Israel Prize laureate, died in the early hours of yesterday morning at the age of 64. His funeral will be held today at 2 P.M. in his home town of Binyamina. Native-born Manor, a prolific musician, composed countless well-known songs including "Ein Li Eretz Acheret" (I Have No Other Country), "Brit Olam" and "My Second Childhood" and translated numerous plays into Hebrew, including Moliere's "The Miser" and Shakespeare's "The Twelfth Night." He recently translated the musical "Chicago," staged by the New Israeli Opera starring Rita and Maya Dagan.

Manor died at home with his wife Ofra Fuchs at his side. "You're not prepared for something like this," Fuchs said yesterday. "Five years ago, he developed lung cancer and completely recovered. Last night he woke up, got up in the middle of the night, couldn't breathe, and within minutes he was gone.

The medical team diagnosed it as cardiac arrest.

"We were in the middle of many projects: We went to see Yaffa Yarkoni together yesterday because I have a song with her in an upcoming production called `The Doves'; he wrote a song with Kobi Oshrat for the opening of the Carmiel Festival and was supposed to receive an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University. In another week and a half we were supposed to put on a children's play together, `Singing with Grandpa and Grandma, and Mommy and Daddy, Too,' in which our son Yadi [Yehuda] was also supposed to take part, and we were already in rehearsals," she said.

The Manors returned from New York two weeks ago, having gone there to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary at the Sabra, the club where they were married. They first met in New York when Manor was studying communications and Fuchs was studying at Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio. She was the friend of a friend, and when he needed a place to stay, someone suggested he give Ofra a call. "I arrived at an apartment where she was living with her sister Edna," he told Zipi Shohat in Haaretz.

"Edna was considered the beauty of the family but my heart went to Ofra. There was something refreshing about her. I loved her voice; she had a low and captivating voice." A week later, Manor proposed.

Two months later, they were married at the Sabra, where Fuchs was appearing for Israeli expatriates.

The Manors have three children: Yehuda, 30, Libby, 33, and Gali, 35. Their son is named after Manor's brother who was killed in the War of Attrition and in whose memory he wrote the song "My Younger Brother Yehuda." His father, Israel, died when Manor was 15. Two years ago his brother Ze'ev Nir committed suicide, having fallen into desperate financial straits.

The last song

According to ACUM, Manor's songs are played on radio stations more than those of any other composer. He wrote 1,250 compositions in Hebrew, and translated more than 600 works into Hebrew. "I have no doubt that they're preparing a major production up there," said Yorik Ben-David, the managing director of ACUM.

Ehud Manor won the Israel Prize seven years ago, the same year that Israel turned 50. "Ehud Manor represents contemporary reality," wrote the committee awarding the prize. "For the past 30 years, he has expressed our mood through the hundreds of songs he has written together with the finest composers. The man who declared that he had no other country is the laureate of the Israel Prize."

Last week, Bar-Ilan University announced that it was going to award Manor an honorary doctorate. The award committee wrote: "The degree is granted as recognition of his prolific activity in the field of Hebrew music. Many of his songs have become classics of music and assets of permanent value."

This Passover, Manor and Fuchs were supposed to stage the musical, "Singing with Grandma and Grandpa, and Mommy and Daddy, Too" at the "Days of Song" festival in Holon. The performance was to have included his songs "Come Here, Gali," "My Little Sister," "Ben," "Who Loves Sabbath?" and "Good Children, Bad Children," and the Manors were supposed to tell how the songs came to be written.

All of the composers and musical directors with whom we spoke felt close to Manor and considered themselves his friend. "The last song he wrote is sitting on my piano. He always wrote his songs by hand, in a handwriting that was very much identified with him: Light, round and open," said Kobi Oshrat. "It's impossible to speak of him in the past tense. We first met when we wrote the song `Gali' together for a children's song festival, and ever since then we've been in contact. But I don't have a monopoly on the relationship with him, and that is what makes him unique: There were dozens of other composers who felt that they had solo status, but he belonged to everyone. He didn't refuse singers just starting out, and he knew how to write a song for everyone.

He was criticized for writing songs for Eurovision but his attitude was that you have to take a lighter approach to life. It seems that someone in heaven is planning a big production and is short a songwriter: In the past year we've lost Naomi Shemer, Arik Lavi, Uzi Hitman, Tzila Dagan and now Ehud, too," he said.

Four months ago, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Cameri Theater, they staged the musical, "Song of the Cameri" - an anthology of songs from musicals put on by the theater over the years. A glance at the program reveals that half of the texts were written by Manor. "I knew him for 25 years," said Noam Semel, the general director of the theater, "back from the period when I was Matti Caspi's producer.

Together, we put on the show `How Is It That One Star Dares,' in which the majority of the songs were written by Ehud. For me, he is part of the Cameri family. For years, there was mutual affection between us.

He was a person with whom everyone was friends. Actors made an instant connection with him; if something didn't feel just right to an actor, he would call Manor in the evening, and the next day there would be a new dialogue. I loved his easygoing and welcoming nature, and in his compositions - his sensitivity. Being as modest as he was, he never defined himself as a poet, but in my opinion he most certainly was," Semel said.

Pop on Israel Radio

When he was studying English Literature and Psychology at Hebrew University in the 1960s, Manor decided to apply to join the university's dance troupe so that he could travel abroad and see the world. Otherwise, he has said in interviews, "I didn't have any financial chance of getting there." He was accepted and the first trip overseas was to Turkey. There he met Rivka Michaeli, who emceed the troupe's performances. Michaeli was impressed with his knowledge of light music. She spoke with Yitzhak Shimoni from Israel Radio, who offered Manor a job editing musical programs.

"I met him when he was in the student's troupe in 1965," says Michaeli. "We traveled a great deal on buses to performances and started to talk about songs, and he knew a great deal. I brought him to Israel Radio, Drora Ben-Avi put out a stack of records for him; he quickly produced a list of songs for broadcast and was immediately accepted.

"He restored the dignity to pop, or it would be more correct to say that he presented pop culture to the grown-ups in Israel Radio and promoted it a great deal: Until Ehud, they didn't know how to deal with pop at all. He was very musical, very up-to-date on what was happening in the world. He had a wonderful friendship with his wife, Ofra, and was a real family man," Michaeli said.

When he wanted to start broadcasting he had to change his surname, Weiner, to a Hebrew name, in accordance with the Zionist spirit of the times. It was Yaron London who suggested that he switch his name to Manor.

"The `m' in the name annoyed me a bit," Manor told Haaretz 11 years ago, "because it didn't appear in the original name. But I wanted to speak on radio so much that I adopted the name, which at the time sounded out of the ordinary."

A suit for the `douze points'

For Yizhar Cohen, Ehud Manor is the person who gave him the Eurovision-winning "Abanibi." The song was originally written for a children's song festival, and it was to be performed by the "Hakol Over Habibi" group, but when this didn't happen, Manor thought of Cohen. The two had met when Cohen was released from the army and was offered the main part in a Haifa Theater production of "Lilly, Too," which produced the wonderful song "Dreams Set Aside."

"He was everywhere," says Cohen. "He was a creative person flowing with ideas. We've lost one of the purest Israeli creators of all. He was a `phenom,' a legend for all of us. He was not a slave to his composition; he enjoyed it and was not enslaved to it."

The history is well known: "Abanibi" as performed by Cohen placed first in the Eurovision contest in Paris in 1978. Manor used to tell about how he did not believe that the song, which has an African-sounding melody, would win a European competition. But once the points were tallied, with the `douze points' racking up, he started to think about the sandals on his feet, the simple T-shirt he was wearing and about how he couldn't get on the stage looking like this.

Sitting alongside him was Yoram Rosenfeld, Nurit Hirsch's husband, who had a similar build and was wearing a brown corduroy suit. The two men exchanged clothes in the middle of the auditorium.

Manor wrote "Abanibi" together with composer Nurit Hirsch.

They met through Shlomo Nitzan at the Tzavta Club in Tel Aviv in 1967.

"He took a paper out of his pocket with a song, and it was the first song that I composed for him: `The Houses that Ended by the Sea,'" said Hirsch.

"It was then that a songwriting romance began between us that continued until Monday night. We spent the evening together, we were interviewed in Yaffa Yarkoni's home to mark the release of the `Doves' album.

We chatted and planned the next few weeks of our lives: We co-wrote the song `Policeman Azoulay' and we were set to present the `Favorite Song from a Movie' prize on Channel 2.

When I learned of his death, I was in shock. He was a smart, loving, good-hearted, warm, humane person. I've lost a close person whose life has been intertwined with my own since I was 24," she said.