Photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90
Rabbi Uri Zohar fell in his home on Thursday morning and medics who rushed to his side performed CPR on him for more than an hour but were eventually forced to call him dead. Coverage of his passing offered a remarkable distinction between Israel’s religious press and the secular press, with one exception: they all loved and admired this man who was destined to be a cultural hero and inspirational innovator no matter where he was. was turning.
He was born in Tel Aviv in 1935 and for the first 25 or so years of his adult life he was recognized as one of Israel’s most talented actors, comedians, screenwriters and directors. His film “Three Days and a Child” based on the novel by AB Yehoshua, was critically acclaimed and its star, Oded Kotler, won the Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival. During those 25 years, you couldn’t talk about Israeli popular culture without referring to its enormous contributions. Israelis loved his blunt and sometimes blunt sense of humor and irony, his bold vulnerability and his love for the values they shared. He and his longtime friend and artistic partner, the late singer Arik Einstein, were standard bearers for secular Israel’s happiest view of itself.
And then, virtually overnight, Uri Zohar switched sides to examine and then follow his Jewish roots, with the same vigor and excitement that characterized his showbiz career. Her little book, “Choose Life,” influenced a generation of Israelis who followed her path to a life of mitzvah observance. Rabbi Zohar used his skills to promote religious Jewish life and was unafraid to confront the people he used to entertain with a radically different message, albeit with his familiar personal touch.
Israel was much smaller and more homogeneous in the 1970s, with a limited number of media outlets, a fact which greatly enhanced Rabbi Zohar’s impact on Israeli society, even more so on the secular side.
Lior Schlein, a sworn anti-religious Israeli artist whose personality is surprisingly reminiscent of Uri Zohar circa 1970, expressed secular Israel’s ambivalence about Zohar in a Tweet: “Thanks for the movies and sketches, Uri. We didn’t exactly agree on all matters of God and the world to come, but today I hope for you that you were right.
The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, presented the perspective of the religious community: “With all the people of Israel, I mourn this morning the departure of a great man, my beloved friend, Righteous Rabbi Uri Zohar, who was an exemplary figure in our generation, opened the way to the roots of the people and led many away from sin, and was privileged to live a meaningful life of Torah, in modesty and humility, out of devotion to the blessed Creator.
In my humble opinion, both ratings are absolutely right. Uri Zohar of my youth offered age-old promise and catharsis the moment you turned on your radio or television to hear and see it. He then offered a God-loving promise and reward with the same availability and connection.
May his memory be blessed.
Rabbi Uri Zohar’s funeral procession will depart at 4 p.m. from his home on Zichron Yaakov Street in Jerusalem to Givat Shaul Cemetery.