When my mother first received the breaking news of Amos Oz’s passing, gasping as the Haaretz news headline slid across her iPhone screen, I could sense her shock from opposite Starbucks. Glancing back from the barista counter, in line for our drinks and watching her expression absorb grief from the report, I read her lips as she mouthed the headline: “Amos Oz, Author and Peace Advocate, to Be Laid to Rest.”
To claim she was familiar with the renowned writer, novelist, and journalist would be an understatement. She, alongside the bulk of Israel’s population, had been enamored by his acclaimed works. Oz stood as the forefront of Israel’s most respected academics and artists, author of 40 novels, short stories, children books, and essays, and recipient of multiple honours and awards. With his works translated into over 45 languages, Oz’s renown extends far across Israel’s borders. That’s to say, much of the world was devastated to learn of his death on Friday, December 28, 2018, at the age of seventy-nine.
Oz is noted for his membership among Israel’s leading writers, like A.B Yehoshua and David Grossman. In fact, the three are often associated as a trio; not only are they distinguished by their close friendship, but they are mutually acknowledged for their open dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much of Oz’s notoriety stemmed from his political activity, being one of the first Israelis to openly advocate for a two-state solution. His powerful and impassioned rhetoric marked him as a spokesman for the Zionist left, widely associated with the Israeli Labor Party for much of his career, veering even further left during the 1990s. It’s true that his political gestures were widely criticised by more conservative Israelis.
As infatuated as my mother was with his life and achievements, not even she knew that Oz wasn’t born to his famed surname. Interestingly, when Oz joined the Labor Zionist party and moved to Kibbutz Hulda at the age of 14, he changed his name from “Klausner” to “Oz,” the Hebrew word for “courage.” And, a controversial figure, that’s exactly how he was regarded: courageous in the sentiment of his works; courageous in his unorthodox lifestyle; courageous in his political endeavours.
His political controversy, however, did little to strip him from his impressive esteem, across Israel’s population. My mother recalls the first book she had read by Oz: My Michael. Published in 1968 during Oz’s time in Kibbutz Hulda, My Michael illustrates the life, love, and marriage of a young woman in 1950s Jerusalem. It quickly became a bestseller, translated into over 30 languages, and noted by the Bertelsmann Publishing House as one of the best novels of the 20th century. She remembers her sentiments upon finishing the novel, as a young woman in Israel: “The book stays with me always. [Oz] brought the emotion of the woman up, highlighting it, which was a bit uncommon at the time… in times when everyone was busy with the success of the husband.” After learning of his death, my mom immediately began research in locating an English version of the novel for me to read.
The literary, political, and intellectual worlds bear a chasmal loss at his death. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the institution at which Oz taught Hebrew Literature, will preserve the legacy of his academic genius; and, I project, like other timeless writers, he will be immortalized through his art. Even my mom, one of the many readers impassioned with his novels, came to peace with his passing: if he was to go, it was fitting he passed on Shabbat, the day of Jewish rest. The day of calm. The day of laying down arms and just being, without struggle. And that was her prayer, as she finished reading his obituary; that after a life of oz, of courage - of writing to global readers, of advocating for peace in a turbulent political climate - he is finally at rest. We lit a candle for him that evening, the glow from his flame casting shadows over the Shabbat table.