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Literature of Israel

Postage stamp honouring Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's contribution to the modern Hebrew language
Postage stamp honouring Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s contribution to the modern Hebrew language
Israel's first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Shmuel Josef Agnon
Israel’s first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Shmuel Josef Agnon

Towards the end of the 19th century the Hebrew language that had been abandoned for many centuries, was brought back to life. With the Zionist desire to establish a new Jewish state, a new language was necessary. The main figure in the revival of Hebrew was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who migrated to Palestine in 1881. He invented thousands of new Hebrew words and created the modern Hebrew language which is spoken in Israel today. His son is known as the first person to be a native Hebrew speaker.

In the early periods of Jewish settlement, many great writers and thinkers from Eastern Europe settled in what was then Palestine, such as Yosef Haim Brenner and Shmuel Josef Agnon. The latter was Israel’s first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. They are perceived as the fathers of Hebrew literature.

The works of Israeli writers such as Meir Shalev, David Grossman and Amos Oz have been translated all over the world. Israel can be considered a country with a rich literary tradition. Another influential writer was A.B. Yehoshua. Most of these authors are known for addressing political issues, identifying with leftist ideas.

A younger generation of writers has emerged including Edgar Keret and Sayed Kashua. These writers show their own views on contemporary Israeli society in mostly short stories. Major Hebrew poets are Hayim Nahman Bialik and Saul Tsernichowsky, both of whom came to Palestine from Eastern Europe. They wrote about the plight of the Jews in Eastern Europe.

Later poets, such as Avraham Shlonsky, Nathan Alterman and Uri Greenberg began writing about the land of Israel and the foundation of the state. The first female poet was Rachel Bluwstein, better known as Rahel. Israel’s major literary fair is the Jerusalem International Book Fair. During this fair the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society is awarded.

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