Iconoclastic Israeli Journalist Bambi Sheleg Dies at 58

A religious Zionist, she went beyond labels and camps in discussion of Israeli society.

Bambi Sheleg
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Journalist Bambi Sheleg, the founder and first editor of the intellectual journal Eretz Aheret (Different Country), died early Monday morning of an illness. She was 58.

Sheleg, a resident of Jerusalem, was a prominent voice in the religious-Zionist community, but preferred to see herself as a “complex person,” as she put it. “I don’t speak as a religious or right-wing person, I speak as a complex person. You don’t get far with absolute truths,” she said.

Sheleg was born in 1958 in Chile as Beatrice Ehrlich and grew up in the capital Santiago. At age 12 she immigrated to Israel with her family and her name was changed to Bracha. Throughout her life, however, she preferred the nickname Bambi.

In 1978, after serving in the military, she was one of the founders of the Atzmona settlement in the northern Sinai.

“We traveled to Atzmona and were sure that they would remove us after two days, but no one came to evacuate us,” she recalled. “We stayed there, a group of six girls and another three guys, and were alone there in the desert for six months. My mother was worried about me; she thought I was in the Galilee. When she heard where I really was she was sure I’d gone crazy.”

She began her journalism career at the right-wing journal Nekuda (Point) that was published in the settlement of Ofra, and then edited the religious-Zionist children’s magazine Otiot (Letters). She later made her name in the wider community with columns in the now-defunct Hadashot, and in Maariv and Yedioth Aharonoth.

In 2000 Sheleg founded and edited the magazine Eretz Aheret, which dealt with social and cultural issues. “The discourse conducted by the general press doesn’t advance anything, because it’s sectoral – everyone represents his own group and isn’t familiar with the other groups, and in the end everyone is just saying exactly what’s expected to the people of his own community,” she said in a 2002 interview with Haaretz, explaining why she founded the magazine.

“My starting point was that this discourse could be conducted at a higher level,” she said. “What guided me was the desire to find, in the deepest place in society, beneath the surface of our extremely divided country, a different country, one in which there is a real and profound discussion between different people on meaningful topics.”

In her articles, Sheleg dealt a great deal with Israeli society and what she termed its “identity and cultural crisis.”

“This crisis is taking place in every community, even those that see themselves as immune to identity crises,” she wrote in 2008. Among the causes of this crisis, she said, was “the inability of most camps, in their current divisions, to offer broad, open cultural and social contemplation,” and “the total lack of a cultural and social horizon that takes into account the complexity and uniqueness of Israeli society, and the responsibility to preserve, respect and give expression to all the pieces of this singular jigsaw puzzle.”

Eretz Aheret stopped publishing a print edition in 2013 and appears in a limited online edition. Sheleg leaves her husband, journalist Yair Sheleg, who worked for Haaretz for many years and later for Makor Rishon, and three children.