Yossi Banai 1932-2006
By Maurice Picow
The people of Israel lost one of their most beloved and talented artists with the passing of Yossi Banai on Thursday, May 11. A real ‘man of all seasons’ in the Israeli entertainment realm, Yossi was beloved and admired by all, from government ministers to the ordinary people who watched his performances over Banai’s long career, spanning more than 50 years.

Born in the Mahane Yehuda section of central Jerusalem, Bani’s long theatrical career at the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv was interlaced with a successful career as a singer, song writer, as well as actor on Israel television, from its very beginning. As a comedian he had few equals, and many well known Israeli entertainers owe their careers to his influence, as well as his warmth and friendship.

Just a few of Israel’s popular entertainers who owe a lot to Yossi’s assistance for their own careers are Gila Almagor, Rifka Michaeli, and the long time comedy group: Hagshash HaChever, which included Yossi’s brother, Gavri Banai. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying: “the State of Israel bows its head today in memory of this great man”.

Banai was attributed to writing and singing numerous popular songs, including several renditions of popular French melodies, which were translated into Hebrew with the help of another recently deceased icon, Naomi Shemer. One of Yossi’s best songs, one that will often be sung to memorialize his passing, is entitled Kaparot Tarnigol (sacrificial rooster), the chorus of which is noted here:

“I remember a sacrificial rooster, a little bird on a roof,
Angels stroll on the walls here and there, all white for the days of awe”

One of the best attributes to Yossi Banai’s career was his ability to adapt himself to nearly four generations of Israeli cultural life; from the very beginnings of the country’s struggles to build a nation from the multitudes of immigration; to the more sophisticated modernity that has characterized the Israeli entertainment industry in recent times.

A modest and often quiet man in his private life, he made up for this with his talent before the public of his beloved Israel, where he entertained everyone for so long. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 1998 for his achievements in the performing arts. But his real achievements will be remembered by all whose lives he touched.