Author and satirist Ephraim Kishon dies, aged 80
Author and satirist Ephraim Kishon passed away late Saturday night at the age of 80.
Kishon died in Switzerland, apparently of a heart attack, with his third wife Lisa by his side. His coffin will be brought to Israel on Sunday and he will be buried in the cemetery on Tel Hai Street in Tel Aviv, where writers and artists are traditionally laid to rest.
Kishon is survived by his wife, his three children Rafi, Amir and Renana, and five grandchildren. "This is a terrible loss," said his son, Dr. Rafi Kishon on Saturday. According to Dr. Kishon, his father has been recently working on a new book.
Kishon, one of Israel's most prolific writers, was born Ferenc Kishont in Budapest. In World War II he was captured by the Nazis and imprisoned in concentration camps. In one camp, a German officer lined up Jewish inmates and shot dead every tenth person, passing him by. Later en route to the Sobibor death camp, Kishon managed to escape the Nazis.
Kishon immigrated to Israel in 1949, where he changed his name. "They made a mistake - they left one satirist alive," he later said, summing up the Holocaust period in his book "The Scapegoat."
Kishon's first satire published in Israel was "The Blaumilch Canal" in the newspaper Davar, later to be adapted into a movie starring Bomba Tzur.
In the 1950s, he started a regular column, "Khad Gadya," in Maariv, edited at the time by a fellow central European, Dr. Azriel Karlibach. Kishon's column, which quickly became the major source of humor for the young State of Israel, featured characters that were later to become well-known in Kishon's works.
In the 1960s, the satirist began working in film, writing and directing, including the famed "Salah Shabati." Shabati, the newly-arrived immigrant from an Arab country, whose common-sense exposes the hypocrisy of the European Jewry establishment, still offers a fascinating outlook on a young Israel unable to come to grips with its own multiculturalism.
Another film by Kishon, "Police Officer Azulai" starring Shaike Offir, won the Golden Globe award and also won an Oscar nomination in 1971.
The eve of the Six Day War in 1967 marked the peak of Kishon's popularity in Israel, as he captured with sensitivity and humor the day-to-day atmosphere of Israel under siege. He did this from the perspective of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, who was amazed and beguiled to realize that his country had managed to withstand the Arab threat to destroy him again and again.
During this period, Kishon began publishing in Europe, mainly in Germany. While his popularity in Israel began to wane in the 1970's, he won growing acclaim in Germany and German-speaking countries, where he has won literary awards and secured staggering sales.
According to his son, Kishon viewed his success in Germany as "a great feeling, that the children of my hangmen are my admirers."
Adding to his success in German translation, Kishon became known throughout the world as a successful author and playwright. His works have been translated into 37 languages.
Several of his best-known books were reissued in recent years, and a new Kishon play was released a month ago.
Since the mid-1980s Kishon has been living in two homes, in Tel Aviv and Switzerland, as he viewed with increasing alienation the new, self-conscious Israel.
He remained an enthusiastic patriot, however, representing what he believed Israel should be like: a country loyal to itself, proudly proving to the rest of the world its right to exist.
Kishon was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2002 for his unique contribution to society and the country. The judges panel described Kishon as "a beam of light rescued from the fire of the Holocaust, who scaled the heights of satire in the world." They also praised Kishon's work for reflecting Israeli society and effectively rendering the socioeconomic distress, unemployment, poverty and harsh living conditions of immigrants in the state's formative years.
Kishon's contribution to projecting a positive image of Israel to the world did not escape the judges' attention as they commented: "His prolific, keen-eyed body of work ... draws his many readers abroad closer to Israel."
In a eulogy on Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said "Ephraim Kishon was one of the giants of Israeli culture, who created an entire cultural world for a country in formation; he created an entire world of culture for the country."
"Ephraim Kishon died yesterday but his monumental cultural works remain with us and with future generations; thus we will remember him."