Israeli Cultural Icon Haim Hefer Dies at 86

Hefer, playwright, poet and winner of the Israel Prize, best known for works such as 'The Red Rock' and 'He Didn't Know Her Name,' passed away in Tel Aviv.

Israel Prize laureate Haim Hefer died on Tuesday in Tel Aviv at the age of 86. Hefer, one of Israel's most prominent writers, was best known for works such as “Yes It's Possible,” "The Red Rock," He Didn`t Know Her Name," and "In Those Days." He lived alone in Tel Aviv, and is survived by a daughter and grandchildren.

Hefer, who was born in Poland, immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1936 at aged 11.

At age 17, he joined the Palmach - the elite strike force of the Haganah, the pre-state underground Jewish militia who struggled against the British to found the State of Israel. He founded the first military band, the Chizbatron, and during his service met playwright and journalist Dahn Ben-Amotz. The two founded "Revi'iat Moadon HaTeatron" (the Theater Club Quartet), and other troupes. They also co-wrote the hugely popular "Yalkut Hakzavim" (The Book of Fibs), a collection of short stories depicting service in the Palmach.

In an interview to Haaretz in 2004, Hefer said that his 1925 birthplace, Sosnowice, Poland, was "Congress Poland, the real Poland." From there his family moved to Myslowice, "which was a very important town for the Jews, because Bialik lived and wrote there for an entire year." His father, Issaschar Feiner, was a traveling chocolate salesman, and his mother, Rivka (nee Herzberg), was a housewife. He says his father was a Zionist, and when Haim was 9 years old, his father decided that he would be a member of Gordonia, a Zionist movement, and he established the first branch in Myslowice.

"I was both the chairman and the only member, and they came to visit me from Katowice to hear what was new in the local branch."

As a child, he studied Hebrew with a private tutor, and every day he would copy a page from a book, with the vowel points, "texts by Frishman." His Hebrew, he said, was like that of a student of the Tarbut high school, and when he immigrated to Israel, he would use antiquated Hebrew expressions, and aroused cries of contempt among the children of Ra'anana. But he "got rid of that very fast."

Hefer managed to slip into the society of native-born Israelis without anyone remembering his Diaspora past, as they always remembered that of Shimon Peres, or as they eventually pried into the life Ben Amotz. This did not surprise Hefer. "I never denied my origins, but I knew Hebrew. That's the whole deal."

A file photo of Israel Prize laureate Haim Hefer.
David Bachar