Israel Prize Laureate and Poet Tuvia Ruebner Dies at 95

Ruebner, who immigrated to Israel during World War II, wrote both in Hebrew and German, winning several awards in Europe

Gili Izikovich
Gili Izikovich
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Poet Tuvia Ruebner, at his home in Kibbutz Merhavia, Israel, 2016.
Poet Tuvia Ruebner, at his home in Kibbutz Merhavia, Israel, 2016.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Gili Izikovich
Gili Izikovich

Tuvia Ruebner, an Israel Prize laureate, died on Monday morning at the age of 95, at his home in Kibbutz Merhavia. Ruebner wrote poetry in Hebrew and German, and taught literature. He also engaged in translation, editing and photography.

Ruebner's last and 17th book – "Od Lo Od" – (or "Not Tet, No More" in Hebrew) – was published this year by the Bialik institute. It was his third within two years.

Born as Kurt Erich in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, Ruebner grew up in a German-speaking Jewish family. Nazi race laws forced him to leave high school before graduating.  In 1941 he immigrated to Israel with a group of teenagers in Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. His family members, who remained behind, were murdered at Auschwitz.

>> Read more: Israel Prize for Literature awarded to Ida Fink, Tuvya Ruebner and Nili Mirsky

From the transit camp at Atlit he moved to Merhavia, where he married Ada, who died in a car accident in 1950. Ruebner, who was injured in the crash, brought up their baby daughter Miriam. Three years later he remarried Galila. They had two boys, Idan and Moran, who disappeared in the 1980s during a trip to South America.

Ruebner wrote since childhood, starting with short stories, followed by poetry. He began reading the Hebrew poetry of Avraham Shlonsky and Nathan Alterman back in Europe. In Israel he met Lea Goldberg who suggested he move to Jerusalem and become her assistant after Ada passed away. He refused, but they became friends and spurred by her, he began writing in Hebrew.

He wrote poems both in Hebrew and German, winning several awards in Europe, including the Adenauer Foundation award. He was named fellow at a number of German educational institutions, and translated many books and poets from German into Hebrew, including the works of Shmuel Yosef Agnon – which is what won Agnon the Nobel Prize in 1966, according to Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem.

For years considered a "poet's poet," he became more popular than ever in the last decade. A selection of his poems was composed, poetry evenings were dedicated to him, and he participated in a poetry project of Israel's Public Broadcasting Corporation. He recently agreed to have his personal archive stored in the Gnazim archive of Hebrew literature – and as fate would have it, the process of its transfer there began today, on the day of his death.

Literary scholar Gideon Tikotzky, who edited some of Ruebner's poems, said the great thing about his life was that despite his life was so difficult, he still chose to live. He was extraordinary for having roots in both German and Israeli culture, and although he replaced German with Hebrew, he didn't abandon German but managed to be a wonderful poet in both languages, Tikotzky said.