Yehoshua Kenaz, One of the Greats of Hebrew Literature, Dies of COVID at 83

Writer, translator and former Haaretz editor published his most well-known novel “Infiltration," considered a milestone in Hebrew literature, in 1986

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Yehoshua Kenaz
Yehoshua KenazCredit: Moti Milrod

Writer Yehoshua Kenaz, one of the greats of Hebrew literature, has died on Monday at the age of 83 after contracting the coronavirus.

For decades, Kenaz published novels, novellas, short stories and translations, and worked at Haaretz for about 30 years, editing the culture and literature supplement, among other things.

Kenaz was born in Petah Tikva in 1937 to the Glass family, and his parents immigrated from Germany and Poland. He spent several of his childhood years in Haifa, where his father served in the British army during World War II. As a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces Kenaz was categorized as physically unfit and served in Military Intelligence. His book “Infiltration” was inspired by that experience.

During his military service he changed his last name to Kenaz, a biblical name that sounds similar to his original family name. When he completed his army service he went to study French culture at the Sorbonne in Paris and later studied philosophy and Romance languages at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He wrote many of his works in Paris, although he lived in Israel. “Israel is home and France is the world,” he used to say.

His first story, “Yad Anuga,” was written in Paris under the pen name Avi Otniel. He sent it to Aharon Amir, who published it in the literary journal Keshet. Additional stories published in the journal became the basis for his first book, “After the Holidays,” which was published in 1964. In 1973 he published the novel “The Great Woman of the Dreams,” and seven years later he published "Musical Moment," which includes four novellas describing his childhood and adolescence, first during the British Mandate period and later in Israel after the founding of the state.

In 1986 he published his most well-known novel “Infiltration," considered a milestone in Hebrew literature. The story takes place at a basic training center in 1950s Israel, and describes a group of soldiers with minor physical disabilities, members of various ethnic groups and social classes.

Kenaz was also a gifted translator, mainly from French. He translated French classics, including works by Sartre, Stendhal, Balzac, Mauriac and Flaubert. In addition, he translated contemporary French literature and was the first to translate detective story writer Georges Simenon into Hebrew.

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