Prolific writer, editor and popular radio broadcaster Netiva Ben-Yehuda passed away before dawn on Monday. She was 82.
A feisty personality, for whom diplomacy was a word more than it was a trait, Ben- Yehuda spent a great deal of her time correcting the mistaken impression that she was related to Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of the modern Hebrew language.
They were not related at all. Her father was Baruch Ben- Yehuda, a math teacher who became the first director-general of the fledgling Ministry of Education.
The spirited and multi-talented Netiva joined the Palmah at age 19 and was trained as a demolitions and bomb disposal expert. She also accompanied convoys, commanded a sapper unit and trained recruits.
She fought in the War of Independence and in 1949 left the army to study at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.
In addition to her talent as an artist, she was also a promising athlete whose main forte was discus throwing. She had been considered a candidate for the Olympic team, but her career as an athlete was stopped by a bullet in the arm that caused her permanent injury.
After completing her studies at Bezalel, she spent a long period in London, and later studied philosophy at the Hebrew University.
Of the many books that she wrote, one of the best known is the World Dictionary of Hebrew Slang which she coauthored with the charismatic iconoclast Dahn Ben-Amotz.
More recently, she wrote her Autobiography in Poem and Song.
She was particularly fond of old Israeli folk songs and collected them obsessively. On her late night radio program, listeners in her own age group and older would frequently sing snatches of songs that have faded from public memory, and she would often join in the chorus.
No one called her Geveret (Mrs.) Ben-Yehuda. She was Netiva to one and all.
Her wee small hours program, Netiva Talks and Listens, which she broadcast for 14 years on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, had an enormous following, despite her raspy voice which was not at all radiophonic.
It was amazing how many people were willing to do without sleep to listen in and to occasionally phone in.
The program almost always included songs written before the establishment of the state.
They were part of her regular appointment with history and nostalgia.
Three years ago, when the Israel Broadcasting Authority sought to introduce severe cutbacks, her program was designated among those to be sacrificed. There was such a public outcry of protest that the IBA had to rethink its priorities and she was transferred to Reshet Gimmel.
Jerusalemites often saw her as some kind of eccentric tourist attraction, and would come from all over the city to her favorite coffee shop in Rehov Hapalmach – where else? – to be photographed with her and exchange a few words.
She held court in the coffee shop on an almost daily basis and conducted her own parliament there.
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