The Woman Who Tucked Israel in at Night

Dvora Omer, the celebrated children's author who brought the country's Zionist figures to life for generations of young readers, dies aged 80.

Maya Sela
Maya Sela
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Maya Sela
Maya Sela

The much-loved and very prolific children’s book author and Israel Prize winner Dvora Omer died this week at the age of 80.

Omer was born in 1932 in Kibutz Maoz Chaim into a literary family. Her father, Moshe Mosenzon, was the editor of “Bama’aleh”, a youth movement periodical that published Omer’s first writings. Her uncle, Yigal Mosenzon, wrote a popular series of children’s adventure stories called "Hasamba."

When she was 11 years old, Omer's mother was killed in an accident, an event reflected in her 1981 children's book, “Direct Hit.”

Following her military service Omer studied at a teachers’ seminary and became an educator at her kibbutz. Inspired by her educational experiences, she wrote a column called “Pages of Tamar” in the children’s weekly “Davar for Children" and in 1958, her columns were collected into a successful book.

Omer also wrote short radio plays and serialized stories. Later, she wrote books about the son of the Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the man who revived Hebrew, and Sarah Aharonson, a member of the NILI underground movement which assisted the British in driving out the Turks in the First World War. Both books, “The Firstborn of AVI" and “Sarah, the NILI Heroine” appeared in 1967 and became must-read books for youngsters.

Over the years, Omer wrote almost 90 books for children and youth and became one of the most popular authors in Israel. Other books she wrote included “Where Did Captain Hook Disappear?”, “I Will Overcome”, and “To Love until Death.”

Many of her books profiled Israel's first pioneers, warriors and Zionist leaders such as Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin, and about Zivia Lubetkin, one of the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Tuvia Kushner, one of the 35 Palmach fighters who died while rescuing the besieged Etzion Bloc in 1948, Zehava Levitov, the first female pilot in the Israeli Air Force, Yakov Meridor, commander of the Etzel, the pre-state underground militia, and Manya Shochat, legendary member of the Shomer movement. She wrote copiously about different periods in Israel, both pre-state and following independence, covering its wars and the Holocaust.

In 2006 she received the Israel Prize, one of the highest civilian honors the state bestows. When accepting the award, she said that she had been “writing since the day I learned how. Before that I told myself stories, and after that I started keeping diaries, from age 7 to 17, but I never thought I would become a writer. I grew up on a kibbutz and I envisioned my life as part of that enterprise. I thought I might become a tractor driver."

When describing their selection, the committee noted that “Omer succeeded in turning the Israeli-Zionist past into a living collage of exciting events and exemplary heroes that combined to create the great Zionist enterprise.”

Omer garnered many other prizes over the years as well, including the Ministry of Education Prize, the Hadas Award for life achievement, the Zeev Prize for children’s literature, the Janusz Korczak medal, the Hans Christian Andersen Prize and the Prime Minister’s Prize.

A few months ago, Omer received a prize from Acum, the Israeli Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers, for her life’s work.

"Thanks to her stories… generations of young people were exposed to exemplary figures in our history," the committee said. "Her oeuvre is rich and diverse, including historical novels, stories about becoming adults, stories about children who don’t fit in, and stories for toddlers. All her stories demonstrate a love for humankind, sensitivity and an understanding of children’s souls and a respect for them… Her books are milestones of children's literature in Hebrew."

Omer lived on Moshav Ma’as with her husband Shmuel, who was the head of Habimah Theater. She is survived by three children.

"She was the greatest writer of children stories in the history of Hebrew literature," said Minister of Culture Limor Livnat. "Even after her death she will continue to leave her imprint and affect Israeli society."

Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich also expressed her sorrow, saying she felt like she lost a member of her family. She said she grew up with Omer's books and later read them to her own children.

“Her books provided an exciting and emotional introduction to the Zionist saga," Yacimovich said. "Omer played an important and intimate role in forming the Zionist ethos for many, and her books will remain with us forever."

Dvora Omer's funeral will be held on Sunday at 5 P.M. at the cemetery in Kfar Ma’as in the Sharon area.

Children's author Dvora Omer with one of her fans.Credit: Nir Keidar

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