Israelis sometime refer to the Banai family as royalty, thatâ€™s because of the many singers, actors and writers the Banai family has produced. So if it were a royal family, Yossi Banai would have been undoubtedly the king.
Banai was born in 1932 and whilst serving in the army, he was a member of the popular “Nachal” band. After his service has ended he started performing as an actor, and during the fifties joined the prestigious theater “Habima” in Tel-Aviv. By the time the sixties came along he was already famous and loved as a talented actor as well as a sharp, and acute writer, a satire man and an entertainer.
In the midst of the seventies, he became active and well known in many fields. Amongst them, the theater and films, but mostly he had a reputation as an extraordinary writer who wrote materiel not only for himself, but for others as well. The comical trio “Hagashash Hachiver” was at the peak of its success during the seventies, and Banai became the main writer of the sketches the group had performed.
During the late seventies Banai recorded a record which also became a big success, proving his abilities as a singer as well as songwriter. His songs “Me and Simon and Little Moiez” (a song about his childhood) and “For All The Love” were played repeatedly over the radio and became popular tunes and part of the Israeli culture. The tour, which accompanied the albumâ€™s release, was very popular and did very well. In that album there was also a first version to the beloved song “On All Of These”, written by Neomi Shemer.
In the Eighties Banai released another album, this one dedicated to the French singer Jack Beryl. It contained French Chansons and songs translated into Hebrew by Neomi Shemer. French chansons were known to be one of Banai’s passions. Banai continued performing and his popularity never dropped. During the nineties he wrote more plays and published several books. In 1998 he received the Israel Reward of Theater for Life Achievement.
And today, 12/05/06, at the age of seventy-four, he was laid to rest in the little town of “Givat HaShlosha”, where he lived and wrote several plays in the past. In accordance to the family’s request, the funeral was not filmed by the press. Yuval Banai, Yossi’s son and front man of the band “Mashina”, said “Kadish” on his grave.
Banai died of a grave illness he had managed to keep secret from almost everyone. Even his closest friends who participated in the funeral said they didn’t know anything was wrong with his health. At the end of the funeral, his friends lingered at the fresh grave to reminisce and speak of the man.
â€œIt’s hard to believe. We are parting from Israel’s greatest actor and writer. He was a warm man and a wonderful friend.” said Gila Almagor, the actress of co-stared with Banai in “The bride and the Butterfly Hunter”.
â€œEverything was said about him. He was a great man and it’s a tragedy.” said Oshik Levi, An actor who performed several times under Banai’s direction.
Singer David Brozza said, “I got to perform with him last year, and it was the most Israeli thing I have ever done in my career. I will never forget it.”
Yesterday, the recently elected prime-minister Ehud Olmert lament Banai by saying;
“The state of Israel lost today one of its culture giants, Israel Award winner, man of Jerusalem, Yossi Banai. He was a model of talent in direction, dramatics, satire, film and music. His unique voice was a main character in the story of the renewing state of Jews in Israel and Jerusalem. He had a rare combination of styles and cultures, a combination of classical and modern, old and new, and that had made him an essence to the Israeli culture. For all of these, for the honey and the sting, for the bitter and the sweet and for what Yossi is to so many generations of Israelis, Israel bows its head and weep. We send our condolences to his wife and his sons.”