With over 1500 songs to his credit, the most prolific American songwriter of all time is Israel Beilin, known more widely as Irving Berlin. Over a century ago, Berlin’s parents emigrated from an antisemitic Belarus and settled in America. His father had been the cantor at the little shtetl’s synagogue. Berlin, entirely self-taught, became a National Treasure, just like his modern-day Israeli counterpart, the late Ehud Manor.
Manor’s parents also emigrated from Belarus, not to escape the Tzars but the Nazis. And like Berlin, Manor wrote over a 1000 lyrics. His songs are played on Israeli radio more than that of any other artist.
After serving in a combat unit, Manor studied English literature and completed his Masters at the prestigious British Cambridge University. Upon returning to Israel, he not only set to work, he also set a precedent as the first Israeli to translate Broadway musicals. The likes of Hair, Chicago and West Side Story soon flooded the Israeli stage. All were received with much enthusiasm. He also translated children’s TV programs such as Barney, and wrote several entries for The Eurovision Song Contest, a competition that Israelis follow pathologically from the first rounds right through to the final, blissfully unaware that many Europeans would never watch it.
With the quaint little streets, Binyamina is a popular place to visit on a lazy Shabbat afternoon. It is also where Manor’s parents’ successful started a company that has a large share in the supply of building stones. Manor wrote several songs about his little town which were set to a tune by many famous musicians.
In 1968, tragedy struck when Manor’s younger brother was killed in the War of Attrition. It was to be a grief that accompanied him for the rest of his life. Yet out of that sadness, he penned En Li Eretz Aheret, (‘I have no other land’), one of Israel’s most iconic songs.
“I have no other land, Even if it is torn asunder. Just a word in my native tongue delves in my veins, and in my soul…half torn apart, with hungry heart, here is my home.”
No other song except HaTikvah invokes such deep patriotism as En Li Eretz Aheret. It is hummed and sung in times of national pride and in times of national crisis. It helps many to temporarily put aside grievances and worries, and breathe in the meaning if the song. Through his lyrics, Manor reminds us that his grief, his troubles, his angst and his undying love of the land, go hand in hand with ours.
A heavy smoker, he died at the young age of 64, but he is not forgotten. His songs are still being set to new tunes. Even Google paid tribute to Manor. For his 74th posthumous birthday, the Hebrew version of the search engine put up a picture of him to remind us all that with his words and attention to poetic detail he continues to command the utmost respect and admiration from us all.
First published here