Accompanied by melancholy songs, writer Amos Oz buried on kibbutz of his youth
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Accompanied by melancholy songs, writer Amos Oz buried on kibbutz of his youth

Family and friends at funeral remember warmth and love of country by author who ‘was a compass and a conscience for many’

Friends and family mourn by the grave of author Amos Oz during a his funeral in Kibbutz Hulda, on December 31, 2018. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)
Friends and family mourn by the grave of author Amos Oz during a his funeral in Kibbutz Hulda, on December 31, 2018. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Singing classic Israeli songs, hundreds of mourners accompanied storied Israeli writer Amos Oz on his final journey Monday, burying the beloved novelist at the central Israel kibbutz where he spent much of his formative years.

No eulogies were made during the funeral at Kibbutz Hulda, south of Tel Aviv, but assembled mourners sang classic Hebrew songs, including “I Believe,” by Shaul Tchernichovsky, and “Take Me Under Your Wing,” by Chaim Nachman Bialik. Oz’s widow Nili played “A Galilee Night,” by Natan Alterman, on the flute.

Oz, Israel’s most widely read and best-known author, died Friday, at the age of 79, succumbing to cancer.

At a memorial before the funeral at Tel Aviv’s small Tzavta Theater, attended by friends, family, artists, intellectuals and politicians, daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger said the writer “bewitched the darkness to draw out love…[he] lived all his life entangled in his love for the land and this country.”

“Dad said, ‘I can distill all the edicts of morality as well as the 10 commandments to one commandment only: Though shalt not hurt. That’s all. And if that’s impossible, at least try to hurt less. As little as possible.”

She added: “Dad left us words. They will not die.”

Grandchildren Dean and Nadav Oz-Salzberger said that for them Oz was “first of all, a man full of warmth, humor, and charm.

“In one of our last conversations you looked deep into our eyes and tearfully said you were leaving us a world that was far less good than you had wanted,” they recalled.”

They said his lifelong fight against “fanaticism, racism, violence, and extremism remains with us.”

People pay respect by the coffin of Amos Oz during his funeral service in Tel Aviv, Israel, December 31, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Considered one of the most accomplished authors in the history of Israeli literature, Oz was also among the country’s most vocal left-wing activists and supporters of a two-state solution.

Oz’s friend Professor Mark Glazerman said Oz “knew the evil in mankind but believed fully in the good as well… Amos felt very deeply invested in the fate of Israel and believed he had a calling and a responsibility to protect it. He was a compass and a conscience for many.”

Actor and director Oded Kotler read out a letter of condolences sent to the family by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who said Oz’s “life was full of cultural and ideological contribution. He defended issues of rights and justice, called for peace and a dignified life [for all].”

Friends and family mourn by the grave of author Amos Oz during a his funeral in Kibbutz Hulda, on December 31, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin, a childhood friend of Oz, said he always felt a deep personal connection to the author’s prose.

“When Amos writes about love and darkness, he writes about me. I am there in the small print. Because, Amos, I feel that not only did you write to me, but you really wrote about me.

“Because of your bravery, your gaze — the most internal and external that there could be. For me and for so many, you lit the streetlights to show the reality of our lives here,” Rivlin said.

He added that the contrarian writer, who in his later years often clashed with the country’s right-wing establishment, was not only “not afraid to be in the minority and hold a minority opinion, but you weren’t even afraid to be called a traitor. On the contrary, you saw the word as a title with honor.”

Oz’s works include “In the Land of Israel,” a work that chronicled his travels and interviews with people throughout Israel and the West Bank in the 1980s, and “My Michael,” a novel about a troubled marriage in 1950s Jerusalem.

Oz won dozens of awards, including the Israel Prize and Germany’s Goethe Award, and his books have been translated into 45 languages. He had repeatedly been mentioned as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but it eluded him.

Oz was born in Jerusalem in 1939, the son of immigrants from eastern Europe. As a teen he rebelled against his parents’ glamorization of Europe and the West and instead was drawn to the young pioneers who built the early state.

Born Amos Klausner, Oz’s austere childhood in the final years of British-mandate Palestine — haunted by the Holocaust and the threat of war for the land claimed by two peoples — would serve as a major theme of his literary works.

Amos Oz, at his house in Tel Aviv from November 2015. Oz was nominated for the Booker Man International Prize for his novel ‘Judas,’ on April 20, 2017.  (Courtesy Dan Balilty/AP)

So would the suicide of his mother when he was 12, the topic of his heart-wrenching memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness.” Seeking a break from his life in Jerusalem, he moved to a kibbutz collective farm at the age of 15, and changed his last name to Oz, Hebrew for strength and bravery.

It was while living on the kibbutz that Oz emerged as a writer, focusing on daily life and family tribulations.

He completed high school at Kibbutz Hulda and returned to the kibbutz after completing his mandatory military service in 1961. While working in the farming community’s cotton fields, he published his first short stories.

After earning a degree in literature from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, he spent 25 years on the kibbutz, dividing his time between writing, farming and teaching at the community’s high school.

As a reserve soldier in a tank unit, Oz fought in the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“My work is the comedy of unhappy families, not tragedy,” he once said.

The serious public face of Amos Oz (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)
Amos Oz. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90/File)

In a career spanning half a century, Oz published over 35 books, including 13 novels, as well as children’s books, collections of short stories, and hundreds of articles on literary and political topics.

Oz’s final novel, “Judas,” was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. A detective story about Jesus and Judas, it was full of the other familiar elements of an Oz novel, including enigmatic characters, the complicated environs of Jerusalem, and endless questions about the State of Israel.

Speaking to The Times of Israel after the novel was published in 2016, Oz said there was something of his own self in each of the three “Judas” characters, but that was not unusual, he said, given that everything he writes is in some way autobiographical, originating from things he has heard or seen, dreamed, read or fantasized about.

Peace activist

Oz was a leading voice in Israel’s peace movement and a friend of the late Shimon Peres, a former prime minister and president, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach a deal with the Palestinians. Oz frequently wrote essays and delivered lectures urging the country’s leaders to establish a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement with Israel.

He was among the founders of Peace Now, a leftist organization that opposes Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and was a leading voice in the 2003 “Geneva Initiative,” an unofficial peace plan reached by leading Israeli and Palestinians. He also was a supporter and activist in Meretz, a dovish Israeli political party.

In recent years, he and fellow authors David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua became pillars of the country’s peace movement, which has grown increasingly marginalized over the past two decades.

Grossman, like Oz a winner of the Israel Prize in literature, said he felt “the world is diminished a little” with the novelist’s passing.

Oz is survived by his wife Nili and three children.

AP contributed to this report.

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