The creation of the modern Israeli state in 1948 marked the beginning of a new era in Hebrew literature. While Hebrew writers had long been active in the eastern Mediterranean region that was formerly known as Palestine, the establishment of Israel as the culmination of the Zionist movement proved decisive in reaffirming the vital language and culture of Hebrew-speakers. Locked in conflict with surrounding Arab nations, the state of Israel has struggled to define itself through its literature. Combining the concerns of Middle Eastern and European Jews—the latter having suffered near total destruction during the Nazi Holocaust—Israeli literature represents the unique expression of a nation and a people seeking to express a new collective identity. Critics have generally divided Israeli literature of the twentieth century into three periods. Works of the first period are labeled "Palmach" literature, a term derived from the Israelimilitary. The Palmach authors, who are sometimes calledthe generation of 1948, flourished in the late 1940s andthe 1950s. Their works of drama, poetry, and fictionreflect a social realist aesthetic, and frequently express themes related to Israelis as a group: political issues, the war of independence, the Israeli army, the kibbutz, or collective farm settlement, and the assimilation of immigrants to the region. By the 1960s and 1970s the so-called New Wave of Israeli literature had began. While national concerns were still prominent, an individual and universal emphasis characterizes the literature of this period. While addressing subjects of vital interest to Israelis, writers of the New Wave endeavored to reproduce the interior lives of individuals and offered a historical contextualization of Israeli life and its past origins in their works, reflecting a move to universal themes. In the 1970s, the voices of women were heard increasingly among Israeli writers, and Israeli poetry and drama developed considerably. The state of Israeli literature in the 1980s and 1990s generally reflects modern attitudes of innovation and experimentalism and has demonstrated a need to more fully confront the subject of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel. Since 1948 Israel has in large part been defined by the brutality of this ancient ethnic conflict. By the close of the century, however, expressions of diversity and dissent are more often heard as the nation struggles to define the meaning and values of its evolving democracy.
Shmuel Yosef Agnon
Selected Stories of S. Y. Agnon (short stories) 1970
Most Cruel the King (drama) 1954
Lo me'-akhshav, lo mi-kan [Not of This Time, Not of This Place] (novel) 1964
Selected Poems (poetry) 1968
Masot beguf ri'shon [Essays in First Person] (essays) 1979
Badenhaim, ir nofesh [Badenheim, 1939] (novella) 1980
Shesh kenafayim le-ehad [Each Had Six Wings] (novel) 1954
Pitse bag rut [The Brigade] (novel) 1968
Ha'abady [The Dissembler] (novel) 1975
Aharei ha-geshem [After the Rain] (short stories) 1979
H. N. Bialik
Selected Poems (poetry) 1965
Yosef Haim Brenner
Schokol we-Kishalon [Breakdown and Bereavement] (novel) 1971
The Brass Serpent: Poems (poetry) 1964
The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse [editor and translator] (poetry) 1981
The Light of Lost Sons: Selected Poems of...
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SOURCE: "Afterword: A Problem of Horizons," in TriQuarterly, No. 39, Spring, 1977, pp. 326-38.
[In the following essay, Alter views the tension between home and horizon—between the limits of the Israeli state and the expanse of the world—in contemporary Israeli literature.]
It seems to me often that life in this tiny country is a powerful stimulant but that only the devout are satisfied with what they can obtain within Israel's borders. The Israelis are great travellers. They need the world.
—Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account
One of the most striking qualities of Israeli literature since the beginning of the 1960s and, increasingly, into the 1970s, is that it remains intensely, almost obsessively, national in its concerns while constantly pressing to address itself to universal issues and situations, perhaps to an international audience as well. This dialectic is inherently unstable, and of course its operation will be felt differently in different writers, or in poetry and prose. Nevertheless, one can detect in most contemporary Hebrew writers a high-pitched vibration of nervousness about the national setting which is the principal locus of their imaginative work; and if we can understand the peculiar nature of that nervousness, we may be able to see more...
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SOURCE: "Fiction in a Stage of Siege," in Defenses of the Imagination: Jewish Writers and Modern Historical Crisis, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1977, pp. 213-31.
[In the following essay, Alter studies the fiction of Amos Oz and Avraham B. Yehoshua.]
One should present the great and simple things,
like desire and death.
Something new has clearly been happening in Israeli fiction. Literary generations of course never really correspond to those symmetric schemes in which writers are seen marching past the review-stand of criticism in neat rows two decades apart; but now that twenty years have elapsed since the emergence of the first generation of native Israeli writers, one becomes increasingly aware of new Hebrew writers who have grown up with the accomplished fact of Jewish sovereignty in a state of seige, and whose attitudes toward language and literary tradition, as well as toward the social realities around them, are often strikingly different from those of their predecessors.
The writers who first came to prominence in the later forties are generally referred to in Hebrew criticism as the Generation of '48, sometimes even as the Palmach Generation, and there is a certain justice in the fact that their literary effort should be linked in...
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David C. Jacobson
SOURCE: "The Holocaust and the Bible in Israeli Poetry," in Modern Language Studies, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 63-77.
[In the following essay, Jacobson examines biblical allusions in Israeli Holocaust poetry.]
Although the destruction of European Jewry in World War II took place outside of the Land of Israel, Israeli culture has been greatly preoccupied by this historical event. Zionism was a movement founded in Europe with the purpose of saving the Jews of the Diaspora from gentile anti-Semitism. For Jews engaged in the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel during and immediately after World War II, Hitler's genocidal attack on the Jews of Europe grimly confirmed their conviction that Diaspora Jewry was doomed and that the only viable alternative for Jews was the development of the Land of Israel into a sovereign Jewish state. As Dina Porat observes, the events of the beginning of the War were already enough to confirm this Zionist conviction:
The suffering of Polish Jews, the largest community in Europe, in the ghettos appeared to the Zionists as proof confirming their predictions that diaspora Jewish life would end catastrophically. The contrast between the destruction of European Jewry and the constructive efforts in Palestine to build a homeland seemed ample confirmation of Zionist assumptions. Tragically, it...
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SOURCE: "Patterns and Trends in Israeli Drama and Theater, 1948 to Present," in Theater in Israel, edited by Linda Ben-Zvi, The University of Michigan Press, 1996, pp. 9-50.
[In the following excerpt, Avigal surveys developments in Israeli theater from the beginning of statehood in 1948 to the mid-1990s.]
IN OTHER PLACES PEOPLE DIE OF STROKES
One evening in 1985, about three years after the Lebanon War, I sat in the Rovina Hall of the Habima National Theater and witnessed a revolution, revolutionary only in Israeli terms, since what seemed so unusual here would have been routine for a Broadway or West End stage. For the very first time in Israeli theater a Yuppie couple, the same age as the playwright and I, dealt with entirely personal problems: the breakdown of a marriage, midlife crisis, personal fulfillment, and self-analysis. Traditionally, Israeli drama had concerned itself with themes of national identity. Individual problems were seen as only a reflection of collective values, too petty and unimportant for a national theater to present.
The play, Hillel Mittelpunkt's Temporary Separation,1 presents a couple in their late thirties who spend a weekend at a beachside hotel trying to rehabilitate their shaky relationship. The husband is a playwright, the wife a university lecturer dedicated to the...
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Women And Israeli Literature
SOURCE: "Solipsism in Israeli Feminist Poetry: The Great Male Writer, Toni Morrison," in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 505-08.
[In the following essay, Abend assesses the influence of American literature and culture on Israeli feminist poetry.]
Individualism, a distinctly Western ideal, is a concept one often associates with personal freedom, privacy, and control over one's life choices. But within the consumeroriented structures of the West, individualism is also a solipsism, as one is often more interested in one's own wishes and sentiments than in the greater issues of society. In the exportation of this ideal to the cultural provinces of the United States, one wonders which of its two facets will prevail: that of individual freedom—supposedly freedom for all—or that of social solipsism. In the case of feminist writings and practices, the interpretation of individualism is significant. An earlier call for women's rights by privileged women in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s was well received by other privileged women in different parts of the world. Current association of the plight of women with that of American minorities, and even that of unprivileged people in the Third World, may pose a problem to women in countries that practice various forms of social injustice.
A look at the development of a feminist...
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Arab Characters In Israeli Literature
Edna Amir Coffin
SOURCE: 'The Image of the Arab in Modern Hebrew Literature,' in Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. XXI, No. 2, Spring, 1982, pp. 319-41.
[In the following essay, Coffin discusses representations of Arabs and Arab-Jewish relations in Israeli literature.]
The encounter between the Arab residents and the Jewish settlers does not resemble an epic or a western, but is, perhaps, closest to a Greek tragedy. That is to say, the clash between justice and justice . . . and like ancient tragedies, there is no hope for happy reconciliation on the basis of some magic formula.
This vision of the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Israel is that of Amos Oz, one of Israel's leading fiction writers and, like many of its writers and intellectuals, a political activist as well. While writers may not have a significant effect on political life in Israel, they have for the most part been outspoken social critics and have fulfilled an important role in reflecting the central concerns of the society. Even writers who have tried to disengage themselves from national politics and focus on more general aspects of the human condition have been unable to avoid the immediate moral issues resulting from the Arab-Jewish confrontations. Israeli literature has always expressed a great yearning for coexistence; at the same time it has evidenced...
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Anderson, Elliott, and R. Friends, eds. Contemporary Israeli Literature: An Anthology. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1977, 342 p.
Retrospective anthology that features the prose of Aharon Appelfeld, David Shahar, A. B. Yehoshua, and Yehuda Amichai along with a cross-section of contemporary Israeli poetry.
Ramras-Rauch, Gila, and Joseph Michman-Melkman, eds. Facing the Holocaust: Selected Israeli Fiction. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1985, 292 p.
Collection of short stories and novel excerpts on the subject of the Holocaust.
Spicehandler, E., and C. Aronson, eds. New Writing in Israel. New York: Schocken, 1976, 225 p.
Contains five short stories from S. Y. Agnon, Aharon Appelfeld, Yitzhak Ben-Ner, and others, as well as selected poems from Don Pagis, Zelda, Amir Gilboa, and Yehuda Amichai.
Taub, Michael, ed. Israeli Holocaust Drama. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996, 332 p.
Features a critical introduction to the Holocaust in Israeli theater, and reprints several plays including Leah Goldberg's Lady of the Castle, Aharon Megged's Hanna Senesh, and Yehoshua Sobol's Adam.
Alter, Robert. After the Tradition: Essays on Modern Jewish...
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