Jehuda Amichai

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Judaism, politics, zionism
Written and spoken word (general)
Middle East, Europe, Western
Israel, Germany
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April 28, 2005
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Jehuda Amichai was born Ludwig Pfeuffer in Würzburg in 1924. He died in Jerusalem on 22 September 2000. The author belonged to a family of German orthodox Jews who emigrated to Palestine in 1935. At the age of 18 he joined the Jewish Brigade of the British army and fought against the Germans in North Africa. After 1945 he took part in the four Arab-Israeli wars. His strong socialist-Zionist views were clearly demonstrated in his decision to change his name at the age of 22. The name Amichai literally means "my people live". After completing his studies in Biblical Science and Hebrew Literature he initially worked as a teacher, and then as a lecturer at the University of Jerusalem.
Amichai’s first volume of poetry, ´UweJamim HaAcherim´, was published in 1955. Many other lyrical volumes followed, as well as dramas, radio plays, a novel, and a collection of short stories. The author attracted considerable attention internationally, and in Israel he became the most prominent and most popular poet. His verse has been quoted in the name of a hairdressing salon in Tel Aviv and cited in two supreme court verdicts. Itzak Rabin recited a poem by Amichai, translated into English, during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo. The poet’s fellow citizens believe that he helped pave the way for peace. In 1982 he received the Israel Prize, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature several times.

Amichai was inspired by Jewish lyric poetry dating back to the Psalms, which he then combined with modern elements. His blend of classic Hebrew with colloquialisms, idioms and slang revolutionized the language of Israeli poetry and contributed towards the establishment of the Tel Aviv School, a group of young writers who endeavoured to upset the formalisms of classic Hebrew. German readers, whose first introduction to the author was the 1988 poetry collection ´Wie schön sind Deine Zelte, Jakob´, are also fascinated by Amichai’s use of language. Günter Kunert wrote: "In this country and in these times one rarely finds poetry in which individual experience and history are insolubly linked in this way, based on melancholy wisdom yet with an almost playful tone. And it is the way he seems to simply casually mention things, and his direct, unpretentious language, interspersed with brilliantly illuminating metaphors and expressions, which intensifies his message."

Amichai’s only novel, the ´poetic autobiography´ (Ernst Piper) ´Nicht von jetzt, nicht von hier´, which looks back at the author’s first visit to the place of his birth, Würzburg, after leaving the town as a child, was published in 1963 and was enthusiastically received by the New York Times, although nearly 30 years were to go by before it was finally translated into German.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)


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