By Rabbi Joe Schwartz
There is a tradition in Israel not to throw books away. When there’s no longer room for a book in our crowded homes — any book — we donate it or place it in one of the bookshelves on the boulevards or parks or train stations; at worst, we leave it on a bench where others will come across it. So it was that two months ago I found a pile of children’s books on my block. I brought them home and read them to my children.
One immediately won us over with its simple sweetness and charm: “My Aunt from the Street of the Prophets” (הדודה שלי מרחוב הנביאים) is a story told in rhyming verse about a woman in Tel Aviv “who loved children most of all.” When her first child, Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) feels lonely, she decides he needs a sibling. And so it goes: For every problem her children face, she devises the same solution — another child. Each new child (named, of course, Isaiah, Samuel, Amos, and so on) brings only greater chaos. And yet the woman can only dream of having more. It was such a winning book that I immediately had to look up its author, Yoram Taharlev.
It turned out that this book, a perfect little masterpiece, was the least of Taharlev’s creations. Born in Kibbutz Yagur in 1938, Taharlev began to write when he was only seven years old and never stopped. He became an Israeli institution, an author not only of books (70!) but, by his own count, of over 1000 poems and lyrics as well. Many of his songs are among the most beloved in Israel.
He also took a keen interest in Jewish themes, though he was not a religious Jew. Many of his books and songs explored Jewish themes, and he wrote a weekly column for Ynet (which he also recorded) on the Torah portion.
Only a few months ago, a new project — Ya’aleh Va’yavo — was completed, celebrating Taharlev’s contribution to Israeli music. Contemporary Israeli artists recorded many of his best-loved songs, and also recorded themselves in conversation with Taharlev about the stories behind the music. It can be found here.
He has been eulogized by the Prime Minister, the President, and media figures. But here are lines Taharlev himself wrote (from “I Had a Brother, I Had a Friend”), fitting for the epitaph of a man who gave us so much, but never tired of giving more: