Hayim Nahman Bialik

The Jewish national poet.

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Bialik has influenced entire generations of Zionists, including tens of thousands who were exposed to his poetry as part of the Israeli school curriculum. He wrote Hebrew poetry at a time when it was far from clear that Hebrew would become the spoken language of the Jewish community in Israel.

His experiments in rhyme and meter--he pioneered free verse and prose poetry in Modern Hebrew--opened up possibilities for the future development of Hebrew literature, and his impact is felt in the work of almost every subsequent writer, from Agnon and Joseph Hayim Brenner through to Uri Zvi Greenberg, Natan Zach and Yehuda Amichai.

Although many of Bialik's personal poems have been misinterpreted in the light of nationalist preoccupations, his power as a poet comes from the force of personal trauma that underlies his poetry's national themes. He speaks for his exiled, traumatized people out of his own personal biography of abandonment and separation.

In 1934, Bialik published Orphanhood, a four-part recreation of his life's greatest trauma: the loss of his mother and father. A few weeks later, on July 4, 1934, he died of a heart attack while visiting Vienna. His death was mourned by Jews around the world as a national tragedy.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.