Warm and Wise' Writer Batya Gur Dies

Batya Gur viewed Michael Ohayon, the hero of her detective series, as a kindred spirit: outwardly tough, but soft, sensitive and cultured from within. A contemplative and caring man.

"I am Michael Ohayon in a woman's body," she used to tell her interviewers. "He grew like me, slowly and laboriously, until he found his place."

Gur, one of Israel's most perceptive writers and critics, died yesterday in her Jerusalem home on Emek Refaim street, after a struggle with cancer. She was 57.

She is survived by her husband, literary critic Ariel Hirschfeld, three children from a previous marriage - Yonatan, Ehud and Hamutal - her brother and her mother.

Gur (nee Mann) was born in Tel Aviv to Holocaust survivors. She grew up in Ramat Gan but returned to Tel Aviv for high school, where she was part of a group of politically and socially engaged youth. Her army service was spent in Ofakim, where she encountered life in Israel's development towns. Gur earned an M.A. in Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University and was married to psychologist Amos Gur, with whom she had her children. After her divorce, she lived with Hirschfeld, her partner of the last seven years.

For many years, Gur was committed to teaching literature. Only at the age of 39 did she turn to writing. She began her literary career with a detective novel, "A Saturday Morning Murder" (Keter, 1988), which was warmly received. This was the birth of detective Michael Ohayon, who developed into the protagonist of a six-part series published between 1989 and 2004, and televised for Channel 2.

Gur also published several other novels, and a book of nonfiction that dealt with the development towns.

Gur's novels achieved widespread success in Israel and abroad, serving as a mirror for Israel political, social and economic problems. No part of Israeli reality escaped her eye: ethnic discrimination, poverty and unemployment, the life of new immigrants and all those at the margins of society.

"I never felt as though I was the salt of the earth, although I was born here, and was a member of the scouts youth movement," she once said.

Gur was politically outspoken on her tours abroad, and was popular in Europe and Germany. In March 2004, she lectured in Brussels, and criticized Ariel Sharon's policies, saying she could understand the mechanism that produced suicide bombers.

Friends and associates called Gur a "warm and wise woman," who was "like an older sister to us all."

Gur was diagnosed with cancer nine months ago. "I view life as a journey of initiation for death," she told a journalist a year ago. "A person lives, suffers, dies. All the rest is grace. And love is grace. Writing is grace."

Gur's funeral will take place today at 11 A.M. at Jerusalem's Givat Shaul cemetery.