My Childhood Hero

It might be a literary hero like Tarzan, a historical figure like the prosecuter Gideon Hausner, and it could certainly be one's own parent - everyone has a childhood hero who seemed invincible and who remains etched in the memory. To mark the new year, Haaretz Magazine asked writers, artists and thinkers to look back in honor.

Zeruya Shalev, writer

Franz Kafka

child, children
David Bachar

I was a little girl when I first became aware of Franz Kafka. On a rainy winter night, when the power went out, my father read to us by candlelight the novella "Metamorphosis." I don't remember how far we got, but when the lights came back on I was a different girl. The gates of consciousness had opened and a new guest had entered, who brought with him a bleak, incisive and alluring world, a new set of rules. And he has stayed with me ever since, a weak and sickly hero who is nevertheless brimming with strength. In my childhood fantasies, his fate was not yet sealed - a miracle might yet be able to cure him - and maybe I would even be the one to save Franz Kafka.


Shulamit Aloni, politician and activist

S. Yizhar

Out of all my teachers, S. Yizhar - who taught me literature, history and Bible from eighth through tenth grade at the Ben Shemen Youth Village - had the biggest influence on me. I still remember by heart entire lessons that he gave and the melody of his voice, and I know by heart all the poems of Hayim Nahman Bialik with both an Ashkenazi and Sephardic pronunciation. I kept in touch with him as an adult, too, and I met with him just a few days before his death. When he taught us he was already a well-known writer, but we knew him as a wonderful teacher. With him we stormed the revolutionary barricades, toured the royal palaces and experienced history in bold colors. Knowing him was the experience of a lifetime.


Lucy Dubinchik,actress

Leonard Cohen

I was 11 when I heard the song "I'm Your Man" for the first time and I fell in love with Leonard Cohen. The lyrical music, the profound lyrics, his unique voice, moved me then and have moved me ever since. When I was a kid, I saw a documentary about him and my admiration grew. He is an incredible poet who comes across as a modest person who's not afraid to laugh at himself and who is able to make great changes in his life. He became a hermit at the height of his success. He inspires respect and appreciation and he is blessed with a quality that I love: He remains young in spirit despite his advanced age.


Rina Sheinfeld, dancer and choreographer

Moira Shearer

Moira Shearer in the 1948 movie "The Red Shoes," when she "danced herself to death," completely mesmerized me, and when I was 12 I signed up for dancing lessons. Today, as an adult dancer, I am still captivated by her, but now I also have different ideals and new heroines - Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Pina Bausch - who cast away the shoes and turned the legend on its head. Today we dance life for the sake of life, barefoot and free.


Yossi Vardi, businessman and high-tech entrepreneur

The great inventors and explorers

As a kid I was a serious bookworm. Every day, when all my friends were playing soccer, I would go to the library on Karmiya Street in Tel Aviv. I would take out three books and start reading as I walked home... There were all my heroes - Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Tom Sawyer, Robin Hood, "Emil and the Detectives," "The Hound of the Baskervilles," and many more too numerous to mention - all of them together. But I felt a genuine lifelong bond with the great explorers and inventors - Thomas Alva Edison; the mad genius Nikola Tesla; the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell; along with people like Scott, Amundsen, Nansen, Stanley and Livingstone, the travelers to the Pole and the discovers of lands - and I continually returned to them. I admired them for their bravery and intelligence, their boldness and tenacity.


Agi Mishol, poet


My tomboy dream was to live in the jungle without parents, in the company of animals, swinging on ropes from tree to tree and leaping obstacles long before Superman and Spider-Man were created, terrifying the forest with my famous cry to my best friend, Cheetah. How I practiced this as I ran with a makeshift spear among the kumquat and tangerine trees around the working-class housing project in Gedera! And how odd it was to discover one day that he had a regular name just like any kid at school: Johnny Weismuller.

Neta Gerti, actress

Arik Einstein

Arik Einstein is a hero. Of my childhood and adulthood and for the rest of my life, I expect. His words move me, as does his fatherlike voice. The most beautiful song in the world is "It's the Same Love," for which he wrote the lyrics and Yoni Rechter composed the music. I can barely hold back the tears whenever I hear it. For me it contains death and birth and everything in between. It's a shame that we don't yet have the technology to hear music in the pages of a newspaper. For now, there are just the words: "You've changed, my love, you say, and so have you, my love/ I would do it all again, again/ How good to have you with me."


Eyal Megged, writer

'Uncle' Stalin

Stalin can be considered a bit of comic relief in my history, since he wasn't responsible for my personal hardships. It was in my early childhood that I gave him the title "Uncle." When I was a year old, on the kibbutz, I answered "Uncle Stalin!" to the question "Who gave you food?" - which my father recorded in his diary. The appellation "Uncle" rather than "Comrade" - as was the custom in the kibbutz - not only goes to show what sort of a familial feeling I developed toward Stalin, it also explains the oddity of how I have never been alarmed at finding myself with empty pockets. As if, during Stalin's time I was ingrained with an unshakable, almost religious confidence that somewhere out there is a kind and benevolent uncle who will always see to my livelihood.



Nili Mirsky, editor and translator


My big childhood hero was Ludwig van Beethoven: heroic, lofty and, at the same time, very intimate - someone you couldn't do without. It started with his music, which was played on our old phonograph and always gave me a mysterious, electrifying thrill. Then, when I was seven, I read Opal Wheeler's "Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells," and from then on, to me, he was the greatest hero of all.

Zoya Cherkassky, artist

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

The figure I most looked up to as a child was Lenin. When my mother got mad at me, I would say to her, "You're angry now, but just wait - when I grow up, I'm going to be Lenin!" Later on, my mother admitted to me that she wasn't too crazy about raising another Lenin. At this point I don't think I'll turn out to be a Lenin, but a lot of the values of the Communist Party have stayed with me.


Norman Issa, actor

Tom and Jerry

Two animated characters that had a special influence on me, my sense of humor and my sense of freedom as an actor. Tom and Jerry are still heroes to me today, and a source of inspiration in my work as a director. They are characters that never die and, despite the violence, there isn't a drop of blood - even when they're cut in two. One can learn from them how to live together and not to die. I still watch episodes today and I've got my kids hooked on watching and laughing, too. It's hysterically funny, and wise, and they are absolutely true heroes.


Uri Avnery, peace activist

Ze'ev Jabotinsky

I never saw him with my own eyes. I never heard his great speeches. Ze'ev Jabotinsky captivated me through his written words. And what words! A crystal clear style devoid of pretense; razor-sharp logic. I was a boy of 14 and I was enchanted by his intellectual honesty, by his total lack of hypocrisy. In the 1920s, he stated that there is an Arab Palestinian people, and scoffed at the Zionist leaders who denied this and tried to bribe the Arabs. Under his influence I joined the Irgun. I read his weekly essay every Friday, until he died. When it didn't appear, I felt an almost physical lack.

After his death in 1940, I started to become skeptical of his views. I disavowed his consent to the murder of innocent Arabs in "reprisal" operations, his surrender to the religious - even though he zealous about the separation of religion and state. I left the Irgun then, too. But after all these years, and after the thousands of articles that I've written, I still have great admiration for his style as a model of clear writing.

Dorit Rabinyan, writer

Lisa and Lottie

I've chosen two who are one - the twin girls Lisa and Lottie, the heroines of Erich Kastner's 1949 book of the same name. The mirror image at the base of the story, the emotional echo that I found in it upon the first, breathless reading, sometime in my childhood, is perhaps the earliest literary experience I can remember - one I explored with innocence and awe, discovering a reflection of real life and perhaps inspiration. The idea of the twins, of the duality of me and myself, of the split and then the trading of places, of worlds, of the wish to assemble a single, whole and harmonious identity out of these half-reflections - this eventually turned into the stuff of writing, of my daily labors, of the hall of mirrors in which I do my work.


Hanoch Piven, artist and illustrator

Henri Charriere

My childhood hero was Henri Charriere, the author and hero of the 1970 book "Papillon." His resourcefulness and improvisations, his many escapes, his ability to manage in any situation - what a man! Even 35 years later, every time I dip a ladle into a pan of beef and vegetable soup, I think about how he bribed the jailer who served him food in solitary confinement to dip the ladle in deeper and scoop out a few more pieces of meat for him. Only thus was he able to survive and escape on a raft made of sacks filled with coconuts. So what if afterward it turned out that he made up most of his exploits? If I notice the cyclicality of the waves at sea, it's only because of his raft.


Yoram Kaniuk, writer

Shimon Rodi

When I was 10, in the evenings after school I would go to the beach and watch the performances of my childhood hero, Shimon Rodi. With great charm, Rodi rippled his muscles and broke iron rods with his teeth, and all the Tel Aviv princesses would shout and swoon at his exploits. Two motorcycle headlights provided light and I was endlessly enchanted. Evening after evening, I crammed into the crowd. I dearly wanted to be like him - an illusionist who held a girl aloft with one hand as he opened iron chains with the other.

Karolina, singer

Bruce Lee

I had a special grandfather - a wild grandfather who was unlike any other grandfather, like a character straight out of an Emir Kusturica movie. When I was five, he would make me go with him to the movies every Monday, and I loved going to see the Bruce Lee movies. I soon fell in love with the actor who was a master of martial arts. I had his poster in my room and even though he beat people up, he had an aura of nobility and fairness about him. He seemed to me a Robin Hood of karate, one who acts out of goodness and only deals karate blows to his enemies because he has no other choice. Bruce Lee made me feel like we could do wonders. Besides being a popular actor and director in the '70s, he was influenced by Taoism, Buddhism and the philosophy of Krishnamurti, and wrote books combining the martial arts with Confucian philosophy.


Amalia Rosenblum, journalist and writer

Jerusha Abbott

Sarah Aaronsohn's suicide in the bathroom enthralled me for many years, and of course I longed to write a diary like Anne Frank - only if I could do it without that whole Holocaust thing, though. And alongside those two, I had a special place reserved for another childhood hero: Jerusha Abbott. Jerusha is the orphan heroine of Jean Webster's 1912 novel "Daddy Long-Legs," who was sent to college with funding from an anonymous benefactor whose sole request is that she write him letters. Jerusha is a combination of the fictional girl orphan archetype (Little Orphan Annie, Anne of Green Gables ) and the character of the emerging girl writer (think Jo from "Little Women" ), with a critical drop of Cinderella added in. The combination of these three models makes her bold, smart, possessed of self-deprecating wit, an outsider to some degree and romantic as only a fictional heroine can be. And another fictional advantage that Jerusha had over Sarah and Anne - she doesn't die in the end.