Nachum Heiman, One of Israel’s Greatest Composers, Dies at 82

Over the course of his career, Heiman composed over 1,000 songs and released more than 40 albums of popular music.

Nahum Heiman in 2006.
Dudu Bachar

Nachum Heiman, composer, conductor, producer and arranger, died Wednesday at the age of 82, after being in poor health for several years.

Heiman, an Israel Prize laureate, was one of Israel’s greatest composers of popular music. He released more than 40 albums and composed more than 1,000 songs during the course of his career, including “Od Hozer Hanigun,” “Kmo Zemach Bar,” “Hofim,” “At Va’ani Veharuach” and “Hahol Yizkor.”

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“He became the soundtrack of all of us,” said his daughter Si Heiman. “But he was my father and I miss him already. I’m parting today from my song man – father. It’s a parting that began long ago, but when the moment came, it was too early.”

Heiman composed music for more than 100 films and TV series. He discovered and fostered numerous singers and devoted his last years to creating an archive of Israeli music.

He received lifetime achievement awards from the musicians’ organization ACUM, Bar Ilan University and the Israeli Academy of Film and Television.

In an interview with Aviva Lori in 2009 he said, “in a culture that has diminished to almost nothing, everything has changed. People don’t sing around the campfire any more, but listen to music alone, with earphones. But some generations still remember.”

“When I go, there’ll still be Nurit Hirsch, Yoni Rechter, Mati Caspi, Shlomo Gronich.”

Asked what will remain of him for future generations, he said, “a part will remain, a part will die. If, in 300 years, they are still singing 20 or 30 of the 1,000 songs I wrote, I’ll smile from one end of the sky to another.”

Heiman was born in Riga in 1934 to a musical family that immigrated to Israel when he was five. He was raised in Tel Aviv and in kibbutzim Na’an and Kfar Maccabi. In the army he coordinated song and dance courses and played the accordion for the first Nahal troupe.

He fought in three wars, and was wounded in all three. When he married Dalia, the mother of his two daughters Si, a singer, and Billy, they moved to Kibbutz Beit Alpha.

Heiman worked as a music teacher and set up the famous Gevatron choir. He worked with Natan Yonatan on dozens of songs, fostered singers and song bands in the ‘60s and wrote music for 122 films and TV shows. From the end of the ‘60s to the mid ‘80s he lived in Paris and London and ran a record company.

He worked with world famous singers such as Nana Mouskouri, Marie la Foret, Serge Lama, Rika Zarai and Mike Brant.

Declared bankrupt in 1999, he returned all his debts. In 2006, he established a non-profit organization devoted to Israel’s musical heritage and devoted his time to restoring early Hebrew recordings.

In his last years, after three divorces, his health deteriorated and he was destitute. A television feature about him prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Culture Minister Limor Livnat to employ him as a consultant for a project to preserve and document Hebrew songs. A documentary of his life, made by Anat Goren, was aired in 2015 on Yes Docu.

Nachum Heiman was eulogized on Wednesday by former President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli Union of Performing Artists and the Kibbutz Movement.