Israeli Literature

A survey of Israeli literature, from Ottoman-era Palestine to today.

Print this page Print this page

From National to Personal

In the 1960s, Israeli fiction began to focus on personal stories rather than the epic of national rebirth, placing marginal figures in center stage. Among authors whose works have been translated into English, one could mention the novelists Yakov Shabtai (1934-1981), Aharon Megged (b.1920), David Shachar (1926-1997), Dan Tsalka (b.1936), and Shulamit Hareven (b.1930).

Although it has ceded preeminence to prose fiction, Israel poetry still thrives.

Two important Israeli poets, in addition to the world famous Yehudah Amichai, are Yonah Wallach (1944-1985) and Nathan Sach (b.1930). Alongside fiction and poetry, Israeli theater has also been very active. Nissim Aloni (1926-1998), who was influenced by contemporary European drama, and Hanoch Levin (1943-1999), whose plays are known for their bitter social satire, were two of Israel’s most important playwrights.

Just about every aspect of Israeli society, every ethnic group, and every social problem confronting the country is represented in the literature. Authors such as Sami Michael (b.1926) have written about Oriental Jews and about the Arab-Israeli conflict, while Yehoshua Kenaz (b.1937) writes bleak and compelling fiction about alienated, urban characters.

The Jewishness of Israeli writing is a subject of critical debate. Aharon Appelfeld, for example, has taken upon himself the task of recreating the Jewish society of Central Europe before the Holocaust and of probing the wound left in the national psyche by the Holocaust. Michal Govrin (b.1950) has written on specifically religious themes, and Haim Beer (b.1945) has written about the religious community of Jerusalem, where he grew up.

However, most other contemporary writers, such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and David Grossman, tend to depict secular, modern, rootless Israelis whose Jewishness is not, apparently, of major concern either to themselves or to the authors. The question remains as to whether the Jewishness of Israeli literature, as of the rest of contemporary Israeli culture, must be explicitly articulated and examined or whether it is simply and naturally present, the matrix upon which everything else lies.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Jeffrey Green is a writer and translator living in Israel. He has a doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard and has translated several books by Aharon Appelfeld. He has also published a book of poetry and a book about translation.