Eulogy for Amos Oz

January 1, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin delivered the eulogy at the funeral for the world-acclaimed writer and thinker Amos Oz who died last week at the age of 79.

Photo: Mark Neiman (GPO)

He said:

“Our dear Amos. Two days have passed and I still don’t know which words to choose, who to talk about – about my Amos, or about our Amos. About Amos my school-friend from the Gymnasia Rechavia, Amos the neighbor from 28 Ben Maimon St – the kid who played soccer, but sat with me when I got a cold and for three hours explained the difference between political Zionism and mystical Zionism to me. You can only imagine my headache when went back to bed. Or maybe about our Amos, the readers’ Amos, the Amos of my generation, those who grew up with the state, the Amos of the people. I don’t think, Amos, I ever told you this story, but now is definitely the time. One day I was sitting in the Knesset plenum, reading ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’. I shouldn’t say it, but I was engrossed in it was as if it were a religious text. And, over my shoulder, Yossi Sarid peered and said ‘you are reading the Dostoevsky of the Jewish people’. The Dostoevsky of the Jewish people. I grabbed Yossi and sat him down next to me, and read the following passage to him slowly and carefully: ‘Once every few weeks, half of Jerusalem would gather on Saturday morning at 11am to hear Menachem Begin`s fiery speeches at the meetings of the Herut movement at the Edison Theater in Jerusalem. Grandfather would dress up for the rally at the Edison in his smart black suit and pale-blue silk tie, and I’, wrote Amos, ‘dressed up and well-combed, in a white shirt and polished shoes, would march straight to the second or third row of the theatre with my grandfather.’

‘The hall was always full of supporters of the Etzel and admirers of the legendary Menachem Begin, almost all men, including many fathers of my classmates at the Tachkemoni school.’ You see, I said to Yossi, I am not reading Dostoevsky, I am reading myself. That’s me there in those small letters, I am in that book. When Amos wrote of love and darkness, he was writing about me. Because I too, Amos, like every one of your readers, felt that you weren’t only writing for me but that you were actually writing about me. But Yossi Saridז”ל  corrected me. ‘He’s writing about us, Ruvi, he’s writing about all of us.’ Which one of us was right? Both of us, it would seem. And precisely because your writing was humanistic and universal no less than it was personal and intimate, you told our story far beyond the boundaries of our own small Israel.

My dear Amos, you always said you were jealous of me because I danced with the girls. But I was also jealous of you – a literary rivalry, or more accurately the jealousy of someone who was not a writer of someone who was. Your eyes that always saw so well looked at the world with tenderness and with focus at the same time, with clarity, inquisitiveness and aspiration.  But your most unique fingerprint, in everything you wrote, everything you said was your ability to look at things deeply from within but also a bit from the side. ‘I have never been part of the majority,’ you said in an interview. And, indeed, you were a Herutnik, a revisionist in a world of Mapai; you were a Jerusalemite external student, full of words, on a kibbutz full of bronzed and muscular young people; you were a man of Jerusalem stone and the lawns of the kibbutz and the desert of Arad. But you, Amos, not only were never afraid of being in the minority, you weren’t even afraid of being called a ‘traitor’. In fact, you saw the term as a badge of honour.

Two years ago you joined the bible study group at Beit HaNasi and the words you said them are still with me. ‘I had a look at the talkbacks of Jerusalem from 2,600 years ago, those against the prophet Jeremiah, and felt right at home. The question of is who is a traitor, what is a traitor, has been with me since my childhood. I have been called a traitor many times in my life, and it is rumoured that I am not the only one in the room. The first time was when I was eight years old, and the last time, I hope, has not yet happened.’ And then Amos read out a long list of traitors – Lincoln and Churchill, Thomas Mann and Charles de Gaulle, Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, Begin and Sadat, Rabin and Bialik. Because of that bravery, and because of that gaze – as introspective and as outward as possible at the same time, you, Amos, lit the streetlamps of the reality of life here for me and for so many others. The person whose heart saw the hours of the dawn and the dusk, whose eyes knew to feel the oncoming storms and knew which alleys would darken, and when fog clouded the street. You would go and light every lamp, on every corner. You would cast light and take apart what was going on before our eyes, show us how complicated things were, give names to things whose shape we didn’t even know, stimulate discussion. Sometimes you did it with patience, sometimes in a rush of blood, but always, always, accurately. I was also envious of that Amos, your ability to know our society to its depths, to be angry with it until it hurt and to love it, to love it forever and infinitely. And what will we do now, Amos, now that you are gone? Who will tell us about ourselves? Us? In your last book you said that ‘the way to bring the dead back to life is to invite them to join us from time to time, to make them a cup of coffee, to remember a few things with them, to try and make up with them a little, and to send them back to the darkness to wait for us patiently.’ I hope you come when we invite you, Amos, to drink coffee, to read reality with us, love us, Amos – just a little more. So that the heart can hurt a little less now that you are no more. And know this, Amos, more than you wanted to dance with the girls, they wanted to dance with you. But they never dared. Our dear Nili, Fania, Galia and Daniel – there is no consolation for the grief you feel today. I hope you feel how many broken hearts are beating with you. We love you and promise to remember him. May his memory be a blessing. יהי זכרו ברוך”

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