TRIBUTE TO LEONARD COHEN BY INNA AND MICHAEL ROGATCHI
LEONARD COHEN: THE LIGHT of THE LIGHT
TRIBUTE TO LEONARD COHEN
by Inna and Michael Rogatchi (C).
There is the concept in Judaism that defines the essence of light. What makes light bright, attractive, hopeful, enduring – asks the concept? The light of the light – our sages has answered.
Leonard Cohen, our dearest Man for All Seasons, was exactly that – the light of the light. And he will be so in our memory for all the days of our lives.
For a mortal human being, the most difficult thing is to comprehend our own passing, our own non-being. We are born with the instinct of survival and it clashes with unimaginable sweeping horror on a thought of me-no-more. The more intellectually capable we are, the worse is this ultimate struggle. We are absolutely helpless being confronted by the thought or reality of the time of passing.
For the rescue here comes our individual spiritual capacity. Not just knowledge or even belief, but our own ability to comprehend, to accept, to become content with the state of mind and spirit which are settled on this essential matter according to our personal faith.
To be ready for leaving This World and for the crossing into the World to Come needs an exceptional wisdom and moral strength. It is a gift given to the deserving individual by the Creator. Leonard certainly was the one of those individuals, honest and loving Jewish son of his people and his G-d.
We know Leonard’s life and career in all its detail, from his first landing on the sun-crazy Hydra soil through his last public appearance just three weeks ago; his tours, his concerts, his travels and his escapes. From all this very rich legacy, the one thing stands along as powerful, as only true revelation can be. It is Leonard’s visit to Israel in 1973 at the time of the Yom Kippur War and his appearance on the stage in the super-packed hall in Tel-Aviv.
We know that the soldiers of the IDF were given special short leaves from the duties, as a reward, to visit the Cohen’s concerts. We know that whenever he visited at the time, whichever IDF unit or base it was, he wanted and asked to be drafted – to the marines, to the air forces, to any army unit.
And then in Tel-Aviv, he is about to go to the stage, and he cannot. He is overwhelmed. He is overwhelmed with his love for Israel and his people. This is the one of the most powerful episode of the naked human emotions documented, and we have this treasure thanks to the famed “Bird on a Wire” Tony Palmer’s documentary on Leonard. And then he controls himself, barely so, but still, he is coming to the stage where his brothers and sisters, his kin, are waiting for him patiently and lovingly. And he sings and talks and blesses them all and the land of Israel with his Kohen blessing, and you are seeing in the front of your eyes a live embodiment of a Son’s Love to his people which you do not usually see; and you know not only what the Jewish bond to our people and our land means, but how it looks, too. Plus the talent. And the sincerity. And the artistic and intellectual honesty – a very hard currency at any time. And plus that disarming smile, that chic grace, that generosity of a superb human being and a very rare man. Our Man for All Seasons, and for generations to come.
We were enormously privileged to know him, to let him know on our work and to hear back from him. Leonard did like and appreciated Michael’s Biblical series, especially his The Patriarchs and the Matriarchs one, and he has also reacted to the Michael’s Jewish Melody series warmly calling his art, and our both art, ‘very fine, deep and engaging”.
A few years ago, Leonard was joking when saying that he is ‘at the age when he is giving away the things that he has, but this does not regard your, Michael, so very fine Zion Waltz art work which I am delighted to have”.
In his 2014 Popular Problems Album, the Samson from New Orleans song was written after he saw Michael’s Samson. The Last Song painting, and Michael is regarded this correlation as a great award.
When Inna created her Horizon Beyond Horizon series of allusive portraits of the great writers, composers and artistic personalities of Jewish origin, all important for her personally, she took the Leonard’s verse as a prologue for her short art film on the collection:
“Now I sail from sky to sky
And all the blackness sings
Against the boat that I have made Of mutilated wings”.
Inna’ work Heart Matter dedicated to Leonard, portraying a lonely but very warm and intense in colour and message leaf on a snow, quickly found its way to the most popular global Leonard Cohen Forum of his devoted fans world-wide, and has become the one of the most appreciated work of that series.
On Leonard’s 80th birthday back in 2014, the dear friends, founders and runners of the best in the world internet resource on Cohen, The Leonard Cohen Files, Jarkko and Eija Arjatsalo, who were the closest friends with Leonard from mid-1980s onward, and who lead incredibly important work on his legacy all these years, were thinking on what could the world fans of Leonard present to him on his 80s anniversary. The idea was fresh and everybody liked it. It was a bench at the Hydra’s square facing the sea, to be built at the spot which Leonard loved. The money for the project was collected in no time, just a day or two. The architect had been hired to create the image and blue-print of the Leonard bench. The blue-print was ready in time to be sent to Leonard for his birthday, along with the address listing all the names of the people who did contribute to the project. The blue-print and address were accompanied by the DVD of the Inna’s The Lessons of Survival film on her conversations with Simon Wiesenthal. “ I know that this is very important for Leonard”, – our common friend Jarkko said. In responding to that birthday package, Leonard wrote to us: “I have read every single name on that address”. He loved the idea of such bench-present on his 80th birthday. And he watched the film on the subject which had been always essentially important for him. He did thank us for the film with his grace, depth and friendship that always melted our hearts completely.
In Michael’s study, there is Leonard’s Kohen Blessing to us which he has sent us to the one of the Rosh HaShanah, hand-written and drawn by him, the one of the most important treasures in our house. We also will be always cherishing the book of his poetry which Leonard has decided to send to us, with dizzy dedication: “For Inna and Michael, Thank you for Understanding”. Every time looking at it, we still cannot believe our eyes. We have Leonard smiling on us from his signed photographs he has sent us, as well. And being looking very much as Inna’s father, it gives us a feeling of genuine family connection, and also assurance in does-not-matter- what will be happening, there is always that special smile of that superb mind and that precious heart of a very rare man and exemplary Jew.
In a special and unique way, Leonard Cohen was the Ambassador-at-large of Jewish people to the world. He was beloved and followed by millions, the vast majority of whose is not Jewish. He did not push his belief or convictions ever, but he never hide it either, and so much of the essence of Judaism, the Torah, the Psalms, the important moments of Jewish history and Jewish psycho are presented in his poetry and music, in organic and noble way. We do not know any other modern poet and musician who had brought out to the world, to the vast global audience such steady Jewish message in such elegant and appealing way for the millions. From this perspective, Leonard Cohen during his over 50 years career, did help to enroot the best of the Jewish soul into the world around him, and to make all those millions of his fans to get the message, to think, to reflect, to accept, to like, to become interested, and , what had been most important for Leonard – to understand. This is invaluable service for his people, and we will always remember it.
Another thing which has been unique in Leonard is his love for people in general. It is incredibly rare to find a star of the international fame who had been so human, so warm, so friendly, and so respectful to people both in his near proximity and towards his giant audience. We have not heard any other super-star who would always, just always, address to his audience anywhere on the planet as to ‘Friends’, exclusively so. And he meant it. People did feel it and paid Leonard back with sincere love. The love which he did generate himself. It is a very rare ability of a man, to generate such amount of love – and to keep all his humour, and that classy under-tone, and that effortless style at the same time. He was a phenomenal guy, our dearest Leonard. The hardest word here is ‘was’.
Coming back to the ultimate struggle of mortal us with the prospect of our departure, to be truly ready for that is a unique accomplishment, the most important achievement which one can hope to get in his life. Leonard was blessed to have it, due to his merits and his service to all of us, to millions who loved him for a half of a century of his career.
But to make this readiness public, to have that incredible moral strength to share it with anyone – as he did in his last album You Want It Darker and the title song of the album, his public good-bye to the millions who loves him, that is the courage of a very special kind ( the essay You Want it Darker – We’ve Got it Shining can be read here ).
We just cannot imagine what does it take from rather reflective and introvert person as Leonard was, to make the innermost of his fears and doubt, his pleas and quests, his thoughts and cries public, to share the core of the process of departing with the rest of us. Why it is important? –one may ask. Is it not the most private business of all? – the other can put a question.
It matters enormously because it helps to the others. Because we learned from a big man how to cope on that most intimate and endlessly sad road. What Leonard did just very shortly before his passing away, was his last act of mercy towards his huge world audience; his affectionate and brave goodbye to us all. He always knew precisely what he is doing, and what for. In a paradoxical, markedly Leonard’s way, Leonard, knowing on his own soon departure was given us the rope, the life-line, the knowledge on how to cope with the Ending.
And then – he came back to us, a day after the release of his last album, on a special occasion which happened to be his last public appearance, with his gracious elegance and that unique smile. This time, this only time, it was Leonard who was without his fedora hat, and it was his son Adam who was with fedora. The sign was there, and it was put on beautifully.
We will always remember his smile at that last public meeting on October 23d at the Canadian Consulate in Los-Angeles where he was so generous to his public, in the wider context too, to all of us, with his jokes and his promises ‘to live forever’, to calm us all down. This smile stays in front of our eyes since we saw our dearest Leonard, as it happened, the last time.
The Nobel Prize, you’ve said? Why not Leonard Cohen? – were so many voices. Nobel Prize what? – we are saying. What prize can be awarded to the man who is marked with the attention of the Creator? What human prize could be given to the true Kohen? He spoke with Creator, and he heard the Answers. We saw it in his trade-marked heart-shaped Magen David blessings, too.
Leonard who never behaved princely in a daily life was above very many of us in many respects. Even in his organic modesty, he was superb and brilliant. As a man and an artist, he was a huge gift to us all. A gift from Creator.
We all are orphaned, and this loss is beyond repair. But the man, the poet, the bard, the Kohen who was the light of the light himself, is inseparable from millions who are mourning the fact that his way in this world has ended. As inseparable, as the light of the light is inseparable from the light.
So long, Leonard, so long.
Judaism explains that a person is departed from This World at the time when the soul which is inside his body has completed its mission on the earth. Being well educated in the Jewish theology, Leonard certainly was aware of the process – and he was blessed with the Creator’s sign of the knowledge of the time of his own departure. This is happening only towards the best, the most remarkable of the Jewish people.
But for us who are left orphaned with him no more, it is very tough. That man was creating so much new, special and unique: his humour, those phrases, always unexpected, that blink of his eyes, that impromptu reactions, that living fountain of human expressions, engaging, attractive, loving, funny, absolutely irresistible ones. Leonard was the Master of Longing. We are longing for him since the hour we have learned on his passing away. We are longing for him every day without him more and more. We are longing for that vivid, wise and easy presence of warm, special, and unique man among us.
As Leonard has put it in the one of his poems,
“This is not silence
this is another poem”
This is how we feel the void he left behind him.
The news of the Leonard’s passing has come to the world on the Shabbat eve, erev Shabbat. On Shabbat, we shall not cry. We will try, by remembering your smile, dearest, great, beloved Friend.