Israel Mourns Steadfast Supporter Leonard Cohen

Canadian singer Leonard Cohen attends the 'Prince of Asturias Awards 2011' ceremony at the Campoamor Theater on October 21, 2011 in Oviedo, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
Carlos Alvarez/Getty

JERUSALEM (AFP) – As fans around the world were on Friday coming to terms with the death of Leonard Cohen, Israel was treating the Canadian Jewish poet and singer as one of its own.

Israel’s two main radio stations dedicated hours to Cohen songs while Facebook and Twitter users posted pictures of the artist, links to his songs and quotes of his writings in English or Hebrew.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin were among leading politicians pay tribute to Cohen.

“Thank you for all of what you left us,” Rivlin wrote on Facebook.

Cohen was “a great creator, a talented artist and warm Jew who loved the people of Israel and the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said on his Facebook page.

“I will not forget how he came to Israel during the Yom Kippur war to sing to IDF (army) soldiers, out of a deep feeling of partnership,” he added.

Cohen, who has died at age 82, was born into a prosperous Jewish family that had founded synagogues in Canada and raised by his grandfather who was a rabbi.

He had never changed his unmistakedly Jewish name — Cohen means priest in Hebrew — and some of his lyrics draw from Jewish tradition and liturgy.

His connection to Judaism manifested in his bond to the Jewish state too, most famously during the 1973 Yom Kippur war between Israel and Arab countries.

“I will go and stop Egypt’s bullets,” he wrote in a poem.

Cohen, who was living on the Greek island of Hydra at the time, left for Israel the day after the war broke out, and in Tel Aviv happened to meet Israeli musician Oshik Levi.

According to Levi’s account, Cohen told him he wanted to help Israel by working on a kibbutz — a collective farming community from which much of the male work-force would have been called up to military duty.

– Singing next to Sharon –

Levi talked Cohen into joining the small group of musicians he had formed to tour the frontlines and entertain the Israeli troops.

Cohen spent some three months doing so, including in the Sinai peninsula, where he was photographed singing next to then-general Ariel Sharon in a picture circulating on Israeli social media Friday.

“I’ve never disguised the fact that I’m Jewish and in any crisis in Israel I would be there,” Cohen said in a 1974 interview. “I am committed to the survival of the Jewish people.”

While touring for the soldiers in 1973, Cohen wrote the song “Lover Lover Lover,” which includes the line: “And may the spirit of this song, may it rise up pure and free. May it be a shield for you, a shield against the enemy.”

Cohen dedicated the song to the Israeli as well as Egyptian soldiers who fought the war.

His support of Israel emerged again in 2009, when Palestinians advocating a cultural boycott of the Jewish state tried to pressure him to cancel a show planned for Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

Cohen refused but said he could also perform in the West Bank city of Ramallah, an offer turned down by the Palestinians.

Cohen used the proceeds from the Israeli concert to establish the Israeli-Palestinian “Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace,” a group set up by a bereaved Israeli father to change public opinion on both sides towards peace.


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