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Leonard Cohen
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Israel mourns steadfast supporter Leonard Cohen
More beloved in Israel than other Jewish artists, the Canadian wordsmith and singer is memorialized by leaders and radio stations in a country that Cohen himself held near and dear.

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.

 

'Who by Fire'

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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.

 

Leonard Cohen and Ariel Sharon during Yom Kippur War (Photo: Arnon Gantz)
Leonard Cohen and Ariel Sharon during Yom Kippur War (Photo: Arnon Gantz)

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 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 unmistakably Jewish 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.

 

Leonard Cohen (Photo: AFP)
Leonard Cohen (Photo: AFP)

 

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 military leader 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."

 

Cohen
Cohen

 

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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