Leonard Cohen’s IDF tour during Yom Kippur war to become TV series

“I came to raise their spirits, and they raised mine,” Cohen said while performing for troops in the desert.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A Jewish musical icon’s spontaneous tour that cheered up IDF soldiers during the 1973 Yom Kippur War will become a limited Israeli TV series, reported Deadline.

“Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai,” will be based on New York Times columnist Matti Friedman’s book of the same name that was published in March. According to the description on Amazon, “Moving around the front with a guitar and a group of local musicians, Cohen met hundreds of young soldiers, men and women at the worst moment of their lives. Those who survived never forgot the experience.

“And the war transformed Cohen. He had announced that he was abandoning his music career, but he instead returned to [the Greek island of] Hydra and to his family, had a second child, and released one of the best albums of his career.”

Friedman took one of the songs on that album, “New Skin for the Old Ceremony,” as the name of his book. “Who By Fire” clearly recalls one of the most moving parts of the Yom Kippur liturgy, where it is asked who will die or live in the coming year. Cohen’s haunting version lists many modern ways man has found to die, including drugs, suicide and murder.

According to Friedman, who received permission to excerpt the late Canadian music icon’s previously unpublished writings, Cohen was full of self-hatred at the time and used his flight to Israel as a means to escape his own head.

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He had not planned on giving any concerts to anyone and did not even bring his guitar along. It was a chance meeting with some Israeli musicians who would not take no for an answer that led him to perform over and over at the southern frontlines alongside Israeli stars like Matti Caspi.

Friedman interviewed many soldiers who were touched to the core by Cohen’s music as well as the fact that such a famous performer had come from abroad, all the way to the Sinai desert, to be with them.

His performances also set the singer himself on the road to recovery.

“I came to raise their spirits, and they raised mine,” Cohen said at one point of his time in the desert, but he would not talk about his experiences in the decades that followed.

He did, however, go on with his career, writing and singing until close to his death in 2016 at age 82.

Yehonatan Indursky, co-creator of Israeli mega-hit “Shtisel,” which has gone international, will be the series’ writer. Deadline called this a “coup” for the producers, Keshet International (N12) and Sixty-Six Media. It is slated to be shot in Israel in 2024.