Israeli Literature: The New Wave

In the second half of the 20th century, Israeli writers became a voice of critique and protest.

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Reprinted with permission from "Contemporary Israeli Fiction and the Subject of Fiction: From Nationhood to the Self," published in Ideology and Jewish Identity, edited by Emily Miller Budick.

Already in the late 1950s the attitude of Hebrew fiction to the large ideological metaplot of Zionist history and realization began to change. There was a general sense of disillusion in the literary community, as what used to be a community of voluntary idealism turned into a bureaucratic state swamped by waves of immigration. The writers reflected the feelings of the cultural, intellectual, and political elite, which felt it was losing the identity that the Hebrew community had forged for itself since the 1920s.

The Sinai War, the Eichmann trial, the Lavon Affair--in which Israelis plotted, and failed, to blow up Americans and incriminate the Egyptians--the revolt against Ben Gurion, the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars, and the political upheaval of the late 1970s--all of these events left their marks on creative people of all ages, but especially on the younger ones, for whom the Holocaust and the War of Independence had not been formative experiences.

new wave israeli literatureIn the early 1950s Amos Kenan responded to the "outbreak of the State" in his satiric column "Uzi & Co" in the newspaper Haaretz. And in 1963 he returned to the subject in a modernist‑absurd novel Batahanah [At the Station]. But it was in the 1960s that the new, postrealist Hebrew fiction of disillusion took hold, with the first short story collections of A.B. Yehoshua (Mot Hazaken) [The Death of an Old Man] and Aharon Appelfeld (Ashan) in 1962, followed by Yoram Kaniuk's Hayored Lemalah [The Acrophyle] in 1963, Yehoshua Kenaz's first novel Aharai Hahagim [After the Holidays] in 1964, and Amos Oz's first short story collection Artzot Hatan [Where the Jackals Howl] in 1965.

Struggling against imaginary external censors and genuine internal ones, the major writers of this New Wave of Israeli authors (as they were dubbed) produced anti‑establishment allegories that to some degree veiled their intentions. This accounts for works like Mikreh Hakesil [Fortunes of a Fool] in 1959 and Haberihah [The Escape] in 1962 by Aharon Megged (a member of the older genera­tion), as well as the early allegories of A. B. Yehoshua, which began to appear in the late 1950s in the newspaper Lamerhav and in the periodical Keshet.

Yehoshua's story "Hamefaked Ha'aharon" [The Last Commander], for example, which appeared in the collection Mot Hazaken in 1962, is about a group of soldiers who prefer sleep­ing to fighting. It evokes the weary distaste for war felt by the post­-Sinai Campaign generation.

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Gershon Shaked

Gershon Shaked, (1929--2006), was Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University, the author of The Shadows Within: Essays on Modern Jewish Writers and many other books. He was a recipient of the Israel Prize and the Bialik Prize.