Israel Prize laureate Aharon Megged, one of the country’s most prolific literary giants, died Wednesday in Tel Aviv at age 95.
Born in Wloclawek, Poland, as Aharon Greenberg, Megged was brought by his parents to British Mandate Palestine when he was six years old. The family settled in Ra’anana, which was then a village, and his father became the first teacher there.
Megged’s parents were well educated, and their home was full of books.
By the age of 12, Megged had read Dostoyevsky and Chekhov. His own writing career was predicted by his father, who was also his teacher. When Megged was nine or 10, he wrote an essay about the Prophet Jeremiah on the way to his home in Anatot. After reading it, his father told him: “You will be a writer.”
In fact, the Megged family as a whole comprises enormous literary talent. His younger brother, Mattityahu, who died in 2003, was a poet and literary critic.
Megged’s wife, Eda Zorittee-Megged, is an author and poet. His son, Eyal, is a prize winning author and poet; and his daughter- in-law, Zeruya Shalev, is also a prize winning, bestselling author.
As a youth, Megged studied at the Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv – where the Shalom Tower now stands. Later, as a member of Hehalutz Hatza’ir (The Young Pioneer), he went for training to Kibbutz Givat Brenner. Subsequently, he spent 12 years as a member of Kibbutz Sdot Yam, working in agriculture, fishing and at the Haifa Port. After leaving the kibbutz, he settled in Tel Aviv.
In 1946, he was sent to the United States as an emissary for Hehalutz Hatza’ir, and spent two years persuading young American Jews to move to Palestine and build up the Jewish homeland.
In 1968, Megged was sent to London, where he spent three years as the cultural attaché at the Israel Embassy.
On his return, Megged began writing a regular column for the now defunct Labor daily Davar.
In collaboration with a group of other writers, Megged founded and edited Masa, a literary weekly publication, and also worked as literary editor at Davar and LaMerhav. He edited Masa for 15 years.
He was also a member of the Hebrew Language Academy.
Returning to England in 1977, Megged spend a year as a scholar in residence at Oxford University, and was invited on lecture tours to the United States, where he was an author in residence at the University of Iowa.
Megged’s books and plays were translated into many languages. He won almost every literary prize in Israel, including the S.Y. Agnon Prize, the Prime Minister’s Prize and the President’s Prize, as well as the Israel Prize for literature – which he was awarded in 2003.
As an editor, he nurtured numerous great writers who came after him.
In an interview on Israel Radio, novelist A.B. Yehoshua recalled that early in his own career, he had sent a short story to Megged. Unlike many other editors who never bother to tell writers why an unsolicited story was rejected, Megged wrote a two-page letter detailing the reasons that the story was not yet ready for publication.
The letter was kindly worded, and care taken to respect the sensitivities of the recipient. Yehoshua, who treasures the letter, said that it had helped him greatly in his writing.
President Reuven Rivlin, in eulogizing Megged, said that he memorialized an entire generation in his writings – a generation that had risen again and restored the independence of the Jewish people.
Rivlin noted Megged’s penchant for writing about the lonely, tortured anti-hero who was always the outsider, and with whom readers could often identify as a mirror image of themselves.
Several of Megged’s sagas focus on life in the kibbutz, and what he perceived as Israel’s moral degeneration after the War of Independence, as well as Israel’s rejection of religion. The Holocaust and anti-Semitism were other themes in his writing. Altogether, he wrote 35 books, and numerous plays, skits and articles for newspapers and magazines.
Megged will be laid to rest on Thursday at 3 p.m. at the historic Kvutzat Kinneret Cemetery, where other literary figures, including the poetess Rachel and songstress Naomi Shemer, are buried.
Megged is survived by his wife, Idit, and sons Eyal and Amos.