Yoram Kaniuk, Maverick Israeli Novelist, Dies at 83
By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: June 10, 2013
JERUSALEM — Yoram Kaniuk, a prominent author and journalist from Israel’s founding generation who often expressed bleak views about what the country had become, died on Saturday in Tel Aviv. He was 83.
His death was confirmed by a spokesman for the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, where Mr. Kaniuk spent his last days. No cause was given, but Mr. Kaniuk was known to have had cancer.
Beginning with “The Acrophile” (1960), a novel about an Israeli living in New York City, Mr. Kaniuk wrote almost 30 books, several of which were translated into English and other languages. “Adam Resurrected,” a novel set in an Israeli mental institution for Holocaust survivors, was made into a 2008 movie directed by Paul Schrader and starring Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe and Derek Jacobi.
Mr. Kaniuk gained newfound popularity and recognition in his later years, particularly after the 2010 publication of “1948,” his part-fictional memoir of Israel’s War of Independence, in which he fought as a 17-year-old and was wounded.
Other well-known works include “Himmo, King of Jerusalem,” a novel set in a wartime Jewish hospital where a young nurse is drawn to a badly mutilated soldier, and “His Daughter,” about a recently retired brigadier general who sets off on a desperate search for his daughter, who is missing from her army base.
A nonconformist with a biting, sometimes morbid sense of humor, Mr. Kaniuk wrote newspaper columns and a blog that dealt increasingly with the indignities of old age and his approaching death.
In a column published in Yediot Aharonot in 2008 and recently reprinted, he bemoaned being kept alive by doctors who, he said, saw him “as a sign of their success.”
“My children are choking from taxes and more taxes and have to work harder, all so that in the morning before breakfast I will take all my pills. Why? What am I doing here at all? Who is it good for?” he wrote. “The money my pills cost could provide an income for poor families, strengthen the police force or buy another fighter jet.”
Mr. Kaniuk saw Israel as being in the grip of religion and said he had no desire to live in a “Jewish Iran.” The intertwining of religion and nationality has long been a subject of debate in a country that defines itself as a Jewish state.
In 2011, Mr. Kaniuk won a court victory allowing him to be identified in the state population registry as a Jew of no religion. The case had inspired a following of secularist Israelis. He had argued that since his wife, Miranda, whom he married in the United States, and his two daughters, Aya and Naomi, were not Jewish, and that since his infant grandson was classified in the registry as having no religion, he wanted to be registered in the same way. They all survive him.
Mr. Kaniuk was born on May 2, 1930, in Tel Aviv to Moshe and Sarah Kaniuk. His father was from Galicia, and his mother came to Palestine from Odessa with her family.
Mr. Kaniuk grew up among the elite of Hebrew culture and the emerging Israeli state. His father, the personal secretary of Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, went on to become the first curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His godfather was the poet Haim Nahman Bialik.
At 17, Mr. Kaniuk joined the Palmach, the elite Jewish fighting force, and was wounded in the war that broke out over Israel’s creation. He was later a sailor on vessels bringing Holocaust survivors to Israel. He took up painting and left for Paris, then New York, where he spent a decade in the thrall of the 1950s jazz scene. He returned to Israel after his marriage.
Railing against the establishment and organized religion until the end, in a blog post in April, Mr. Kaniuk called on Israel’s education minister, Rabbi Shai Piron of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, to resign. “They say that Rabbi Piron is a mild-mannered man,” he wrote. But, he added, “A rabbi is a rabbi.”
He called on the country to let his grandson’s generation be Jewish by nationality and not by religion, unless they chose otherwise, “and let freedom go wild.”
In a videotaped interview on the Israeli news site Ynet, he said, “If you ask me am I proud to be an Israeli, I love being an Israeli, but I’m not so proud.”
Mr. Kaniuk chose not to have a funeral and instead donated his body to scientific research.