A Sad Farewell From the Man Who Wrote the Words That Made a State

Several minutes before the coffin arrived a young soldier was still talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. "I'm at Haim Hefer's funeral," he said,

It was a unique sounding dirge, which couldn't leave one indifferent: Itamar, the son of legendary composer Sasha Argov, played "The Purple Dress" on his trumpet.

"You'll wear the purple dress / And your eyes will be flooded by dark light / You'll send a smile to every passerby / And a violet will suddenly bloom in your hair."

Words: Haim Hefer

This triad - "words: Haim Hefer" - an idiom-of-sorts that we've heard with since our early youths, filled the mountainside, together with the humming of old beautiful love words that were quietly sung by everyone who was there yesterday.

It seemed to me that all eyes were slightly damp at Ein Hod on Wednesday, where not too many people came to pay their last farewells to Haim Hefer.

No one wept at Ein Hod, but it was sad. Under the olive and pine trees on the mountain that was burnt down not too long ago, at the tiny, somewhat neglected cemetery, the last living men and women of his generation came to pay respects to one of the two great "Haims" of 1948. The other, Haim Guri, 89, sat in the crowd, his hair still flying in the breeze. Later, he said some beautiful words, nobly mourning and saluting his lost friend.

Several minutes before the coffin arrived a young soldier was still talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. "I'm at Haim Hefer's funeral," he said, and she obviously asked him who Haim Hefer was. The soldier tried to explain that he was a dead poet, but that too, didn't mean very much to her.

Sitting in wheelchairs and sporting hearing aids, the crowd made its way up the hill. Here were that generation's admired generals, whose portraits adorned our Sukkot as children: Shaike Gavish and Amos Horev, together with a handful of pre-state Palmach soldiers. Here is Stef Wertheimer and Naomi Polani with some other artists. Here is Chaim Topol, Gavri Banai and Gila Almagor.

The government wasn't represented at the funeral. There's really no connection between Hefer and this government. Only MK Raleb Majadele, of all people, represented the Labor party, together with Amram Mitzna. The Israel Defense Forces actually sent its head of personnel directorate and chief education officer.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Hefer's employer for decades, sent a wreath. That's how it goes when you die old and forgotten, in this tough country that doesn't respect its dead and is cold to its artists.

Naturally, Hefer's numerous enemies and rivals did not show up. Hefer admired his teacher and commander, Yigal Alon, who was almost Saint Yigal to him. Yitzhak Rabin was also revered, but less so. On the other hand, all those who were part of the left-wing political party Rafi were doomed by Hefer's poisonous pen. Shimon Peres, for example, the "flea that made it to the top," was justifiably absent. Hefer despised Peres, with a passion.

Six men, all "sons-of," carried the coffin up the mountain. It was probably one of the last group photographs of that generation, which we were educated to admire, to not question its activities. I knew I was witnessing the funeral of an era, a requiem to poems and songs that could never be written again.

Now, as I write these words, back from the funeral, I stare at an old worn out book on my desk, "Words for Melodies," by Haim Hefer, published in 1961. My brother and I used to sing all these songs before going to bed, the karaoke of the 1960s. These memories of the songs and of my brother will always stay with me.

I browse through the pages, careful not to tear any. Each song brings its memories, of the Red Rock, of the moon in Mesha. Some of the lyrics made us blush: "When she was cold, she went to the master sergeant, when she wanted to warm up, she turned to the platoon commander." It's hard to imagine that a book with such sexist, chauvinist passages could be published today, but yesterday at Ein Hod, opposite the lost beautiful Palestinian village which was occupied and taken over by leftist artists, in the late afternoon sunset light, with the Mediterranean Sea sparkling as it does at the summer's end, all was forgiven, and only the beautiful memories remained.

And then, all stood up at once for the anthem, not the national anthem, but the Palmach anthem. Not written by Haim Hefer. On the way back to Tel Aviv, another song was played: "It won't return, all this is gone, only memories remain, we walk on our fingertips, time has fallen asleep, please do not awaken us. The time of old small Tel Aviv is over."

Words: Haim Hefer, naturally.

Mourners at the funeral of Haim Hefer in Ein Hod, September 19, 2012.
Yaron Kaminsky