Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Newsletter

Acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz has died at age 79

Photo for Acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz

One of Israel's best known and most revered contemporary authors, Oz was the recipient of a multitude of honors, including the 2015 UCLA Israel Studies Award.

"We were deeply honored to recognize Amos Oz, a brilliant writer, intellectual, and champion of peace" said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. "His passing is a great loss for all of us."

Amos Oz was the author of more than 40 books, including novels, short fiction, children’s books and numerous works of nonfiction. His works, which tell deeply human stories of Israel and Israelis, have been translated into some 42 languages, including Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Turkish.

His daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger announced her father's death from cancer on Twitter, saying in Hebrew that he "has passed away ... just now, after a rapid deterioration, in his sleep and at peace, surrounded by his loved ones." She thanked "all those who loved him."

Among his many novels are My Michael (1968), The Hill of Evil Counsel (1976), A Perfect Peace (1982), Panther in the Basement (1995), Scenes from Village Life (2009), and Judas (2014). Oz’s acclaimed memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness (2002), sold over a million copies world-wide. A film based on the memoir, directed and starring Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman, was released in 2015.

Oz received a multitude of honors over the course of his life. He was a recipient of the Israel Prize for Literature (1998), the highest honor of the State of Israel, as well as the Kafka Prize (2013), the Prix Méditerranée Étranger (2010), the Primo Levi Prize (2008,) the Heinrich Heine Prize (2008), the Goethe Prize of the City of Frankfurt (2005), and the (U.S.) Jewish Book of the Year Award (2005), among many others.

In 2015, the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies honored Oz with the UCLA Israel Studies Award at its 5-Year Anniversary celebration. Natalie Portman presented the award, which recognizes individuals of extraordinary character or merit in their chosen field who have contributed to a greater understanding of Israel or have made outstanding contributions to Israeli society or culture.

"We were deeply honored to recognize Amos Oz, a brilliant writer, intellectual, and champion of peace" said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. "His passing is a great loss for all of us."

In addition to his tremendous literary accomplishments, Oz played a central role in the civic and political life of Israel. One of the leading figures in the Israeli Peace movement since 1967, Oz published numerous articles and essays about the Israeli-Arab conflict in which he advocated for an Israeli-Palestinian compromise based on mutual recognition and co-existence between Israel and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. His articles, essays, and political activities made him a recognized political commentator in Israeli and international media.

Oz was born Amos Klausner into a family of scholars and teachers in Jerusalem in 1939. His parents and grandparents emigrated from Russia and present-day Poland to Mandatory Palestine in the early 1930s. Some of his relatives were militant right-wing Zionists; his great-uncle, Joseph Klausner, was the Herut Party candidate for the presidency against Chaim Weizmann, and chaired the Hebrew literature department at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem for several decades.

In 1954 at age 15, Oz left Jerusalem to live and work in Kibbutz Hulda, where he completed his secondary education. After fulfilling his Army service in 1961, he returned to work on the kibbutz. As a reserve soldier in a tank unit, Oz fought on the Sinai front during the 1967 Six Day War, and on the Golan Heights in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Oz published his first short stories in the leading literary quarterly Keshet when he was in his early 20s. Soon the kibbutz assembly sent him back to Jerusalem to study philosophy and literature at The Hebrew University. He returned with his BA degree and, for 25 years, divided his time between writing, farming, and teaching in the kibbutz high school, while continuing to publish works of fiction and nonfiction.

Oz met Nily Zuckerman on the kibbutz and they married in 1960. They moved with their three children to Arad in southern Israel in 1986; most recently he and Nily lived in Tel Aviv.

As a full professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, where he held the Agnon Chair of Hebrew Literature, Oz devoted his time to writing, teaching, and actively campaigning for the Israeli Peace movement. He was a visiting scholar and/or writer-in-residence at many universities, among them, St. Cross College, Oxford; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Colorado Springs College, Colorado; Princeton University; and Oxford University.

He is survived by his wife Nily, children Fania, Galia and Daniel, and several grandchildren.