Yehuda Amichai

A widely acclaimed poet of the 20th century, Yehuda Amichai was born in pre-World War II Germany in 1924 and grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home. He emigrated to Palestine with his family in the mid-1930s and took up poetry after his volunteer service in the British Army. He changed his family name from “Pfeuffer” to “Amichai,” a Hebrew name that means “My people lives.”

While he foreswore his Orthodox upbringing, he uses a conversational Hebrew dotted with metaphors that often play ironically on Biblical and other Jewish references. He won numerous awards both in Israel and abroad, and was a frequent contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Photo of Yehuda Amichai

Yehuda Amichai
Photo Courtesy of Hana Amichai

Yehuda Amichai often gave readings and interviews in the U.S. and around the world. In one interview with The Paris Review in 1992, he commented on the extremism that he had encountered throughout his life and how it had affected his outlook on life.

“I’ve often said that I consider myself a “post cynical humanist,” Amichai said. “Maybe now after so much horror, so many shattered ideals, we can start anew—now that we’re well armored for disappointment. I think my sense of history and God, even if I am against history and God, is very Jewish. I think this is why my poems are sometimes taught in religious schools. It’s an ancient Jewish idea to fight with God, to scream out against God.”

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