Amos Oz: A Remembrance

By Sid Goldstein

On December 28, 2108, Amos Oz died. This is something I will never forget. Just the day before, I had picked up a copy of his last novel Judas and began to read it for the Sof Book Club. Amos Oz was, without question, the most famous and talented writer that Israel has produced in its 70 year history as a nation.

He was the author of 40 books, including novels, short story collections, children’s books, and essays. His work has been published in 45 languages. He was the recipient of many honors and awards, among them the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Legion of Honor of France, the Israel Prize, the Goethe Prize and the Franz Kafka Prize.

His early life did not portend such greatness. He was born in Jerusalem, where he lived for the first eleven years of his life. His mother, a Polish Jewish immigrant, committed suicide when he was twelve. Less than two years later, he left his father’s home and moved to a Kibbutz. He was adopted by a new family into the Kibbutz and lived the life of a common laborer. He was, by his own admission, a terrible farmer. But, when he began to write and write well, the Kibbutz granted him exemption days from work to allow him to write. After the Kibbutz, Oz served the mandatory 3 years of service in the IDF (Israeli Army.)  During his service, he fought in two tank battles during the Six-Day war in 1967.

His first book of short stories, Where the Jackals Howl, was a bestseller. His first novel, My Michael, received international acclaim. In 1983, he published a book of essays, In the Land of Israel, which was a tour-de-force of the wide range of Jewish and Arab viewpoints throughout the state. It gave the world a chance to experience the ferment that is life in Israel. From that point on, Oz was an international celebrity.

His seminal work was published in 2002. It is entitled A Tale of Love and Darkness.  It is a partial autobiography, a history of his European family, and an examination of his mother’s suicide. The book sold two million copies in its first printing in Israel. It became so iconic that it was made into a film in Israel in 2015. Israeli-born international film star Natalie Portman produced the film and played the part of his mother.

Oz was a peacenik in Israeli politics. He was a firm believer in a Palestinian State. He thought that if such a state existed, much like Northern Island and the Irish Republic, the two states would eventually learn to live in peace. His reputation was so stellar, even his political opponents paid him tribute. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not share any of his political views. Yet the Prime Minister said this about the writer on the day after his death: “Despite the fact we did not always see eye to eye, I deeply appreciated his contribution to the Hebrew language and to its literature. His words and his writing will continue to accompany us for many years to come. May his memory be a blessing.”

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