Author and Israel Prize Laureate S. Yizhar Dies at 90

Yizhar (1916 - 2006) was a great innovator in modern Hebrew literature as well as a respected politician.

Israeli writer Yizhar Smilansky better known by his pen name S. Yizhar died Monday morning of heart failure. He was 90 years old.

His pen name was given him by the poet and editor Yitzhak Lamdan, when in 1938 he published Yizhar's first short novella "Ephraim Hozer Leaspeset" ("Ephraim Goes Back to Alfalfa") in his literary journal "Gillionot". From then on, Yizhar signed his works with this pen name.

Yizhar was a great innovator in modern Hebrew literature. His writing characteristically combined long formulations of high-level prose, mixed with street slang.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres knew Yizhar through their joint political activity in Israel's Knesset. Peres said "my friend Yizhar, that went along with me a long way and for many years, made the brand new state of Israel into the intellectual homeland of the Israeli people. There never was another man that had his penetrating vision and wondrous articulation. He made the Hebrew language into a celebration and a challenge simultaneously. He saw things deeply and was a part of them."

In his eulogy, Peres made reference to Yizhar's great contribution to Hebrew literature and said, "Since Yizhar, Hebrew literature is not what it used to be. He was involved in real decisions for Israel's people, he loved the people, his sons, his army as well as peace, and he never gave anyone any breaks because of his love. Yizhar gave Hebrew literature a flavor that will never fade."

Yizhar was born in 1916 and spent his childhood in Kibbutz Hulda, Tel Aviv and Rehovot. His parents were among the first Jewish settlers in the area.

Yizhar attended a teachers' seminary in Jerusalem and later taught in Yavniel, Ben Shemen and Rehovot.

In 1948 he served as an officer in the intelligence unit of the military. One year later, he was elected to the first Knesset in founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion's Mapai party, and served as a Knesset member on the party's list for four additional terms. His sixth term as a member of the Knesset was for Ben-Gurion's breakaway Rafi party.

Yizhar studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at Harvard University in Massachusettes, and was awarded a PhD. He later taught at Hebrew University, as well as Tel Aviv University as a literature professor.

After the publication of his first novella in 1938, Yizhar published numerous other novellas, which solidified his status as one of the foremost Israeli-born writers. His first collection of short stories "Hachorsha Bagiv'ah" ("The wood on the hill") saw light in 1947. In 1948 the collection won the Ruppin prize for literature.

Towards the end of Israel's 1948 Independence War, Yizhar published "Hashavuy" ("The captive") which stirred much controversy. The collection of stories "Hirvat Hazaa" in 1949 was also very controversial.

In the late 1950s his massive work "Yemey Ziklag" ("Days of Ziklag") appeared, comprising two volumes and more than a thousand pages. This work completely changed the outlook for Hebrew prose on the one hand, and "war literature" on the other. The work earned him the Israel Prize at only 43, making him one of the youngest recipients of the prize.

In the 60's Yizhar published "Sipurey Mishor" ("stories of a plane"). In the years that followed, Yizhar did not write fiction, but concentrated on publishing articles and books about literature and education.

In the 90's Yizahr published six consecutive books. For these he was awarded many literature prizes and honorary doctorate degrees.