Yoram Kaniuk died with a heavy heart about the state whose establishment he yearned for and fought for, sustaining wounds in 1948. Kaniuk was an acclaimed, prolific and involved writer, who at the end of his life became more popular and admired than ever.
In recent years he would often express sharp opinions regarding various trends in the country and in Israeli society. He was against racism and a religious regime, protested the treatment accorded the elderly and writers, and opposed the occupation. In one of his last pieces for Haaretz, he wrote, regarding the incitement against African migrants and the publication of the book "The King's Torah": "The Israeli Kristallnacht and the permit to distribute a Hebrew 'Mein Kampf' strengthen the feeling that Israel has changed. All those who want a stern-faced and right-wing halachic state will feel revived."
Around two years before his death, Kaniuk petitioned a district court demanding that he be "released from the Jewish religion" and be registered with the Interior Ministry as having no religion, which is exactly how his grandson is registered since the boy's mother is not considered Jewish. In his petition, Kaniuk explained that he didn't want to be part of a "Jewish Iran." His struggle was successful and he was registered as having no religion.
Kaniuk saw this as a license for every person to determine his own identity as his conscience saw fit. Unfortunately, he was not as successful in other, similar battles, and he was left embittered by the state to which he was so committed all his life and which had so deeply disappointed him. Kaniuk was not alone: He spoke for a significant portion of the first generation of Israelis.
Kaniuk was an Israeli patriot with all his heart and soul, and was one of the prime generators of Israeli art and culture since the state was founded. His literary works dealt with milestones of Israeli and Jewish history, from the Holocaust through the revival, and he was not only afraid for the future of the state, but for the future of its language. With his death Saturday at the age of 83, after a lengthy period of physical suffering, he leaves behind a legacy that must not be ignored.
Kaniuk was an example of an intellectual who pursued social justice. He and his friends first fought to create a state for the Jews, and afterward to establish that state as just, secular, democratic and egalitarian. They succeeded in their first mission, but subsequently failed. Israel in 2013 is not the country of their dreams and for which they fought. Kaniuk was not the first to be disappointed by it, and unfortunately will not be the last. More attention should have been paid to him during his lifetime, and his struggles dare not be forgotten after his death.
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