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Hame’iri, Avigdor

(1890–1970), Hebrew writer. Avigdor Hame’iri was born in a small village in Hungary, where he received a traditional Jewish education. From 1905 he studied at the high school associated with the (state-run) Budapest Rabbinical Seminary. While still an adolescent, he became actively involved in the Zionist cause, wrote for the Hungarian press, and tried his hand at writing Hebrew literature. His first poem was published in 1909, and his first poetry anthology appeared in Budapest in 1912, arousing much interest. In September 1913, while attending the Eleventh Zionist Congress in Vienna as a journalist, he befriended a number of leading Hebrew writers, including Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik.

In the summer of 1914, Hame’iri was conscripted into the Hungarian army, becoming a commissioned officer in World War I. For approximately two years he fought in Galicia against the Russian army and at the end of 1916 was captured. For six months he was transported to, and tortured in, various prison camps in Asiatic Russia, until he was set free in February 1917 as a result of the Russian Revolution. He swiftly made his way to Kiev and from there to Odessa, where he was warmly welcomed by the circle of Hebrew writers there, who helped him resume his Hebrew writing career.

In the summer of 1921, Hame’iri left Odessa with a group of writers who, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Bialik, were permitted to leave Russia, and later that year he immigrated to Palestine. He spent most of his remaining years in Tel Aviv, where he dedicated himself to literary work, theatrical productions, and a wide variety of journalistic activities. Among other achievements, he established and managed the first Hebrew satirical theater, Ha-Kumkum (The Kettle), which from 1927 staged satirical cabarets based on the Central European model. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Hame’iri worked as an editor and recorder at the Israeli Knesset.

The dozens of books published by Hame’iri include only a partial sampling of his prolific writings. They include historical and contemporary novels, memoirs, and stories; personal and political poetry; scripts; current affairs articles, feuilletons, and satirical pieces; translations of poetry and prose; children’s books; studies on language; and popular science books. He was especially famous for works based on his experiences in war and captivity. These include the documentary novels Ha-Shiga‘on ha-gadol (The Great Madness; 1929) and Be-Gehinom shel matah (Hell on Earth; 1932); three compendia of surrealistic-fantastical short stories (1925–1928); and an anthology of poetry, Sefer ha-shirim (The Book of Poems; 1932), which includes some of his best lyrical poems. These latter works are Hebrew literature’s most important contributions to pacifist literature, a genre that flourished in the wake of World War I. Ha-Shiga‘on ha-gadol, for example, is strikingly similar to Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

Nonetheless, Hame’iri’s works are unique in their employment of bold Jewish themes. Aside from expressing his opposition to the war and to wars in general, he also conveys powerful feelings of solidarity toward fellow Jews (as in his denunciation of the absurd situation that required Jews from various armies to fight one another), of admiration for the displays of Jewish heroism during wartime that belied the traditionally meek image of Jews, and of yearnings for national redemption embodied in his depiction of a Jewish army that would help to accomplish the Zionist goal. Motifs of this nature appear also in his documentary prose: Ben shine ha-adam (Between the Teeth of Man; 1929), depicting terror and fear in Odessa during the Russian Civil War, and Masa‘ ba-Eropah ha-pera‘it (Journey through Wild Europe; 1938), providing a panoramic view of Jewish life in Hungary, apparently stable, rich, and vibrant, but unwittingly marching toward its own destruction.

Hame’iri’s poems are, by contrast, distinguished by essentially individualistic tones. At the heart of his poetry is the I, whose experiences are larger than life, and whose world is fashioned by the powerful spiritual tempest that has overwhelmed him. Because of these expressionistic aspects, Hame’iri is considered one of the pioneers of modernism in Hebrew poetry in Palestine. At the same time, his enthusiastic poetry reflects his colorful, stormy, and coarse personality, to which his acquaintances attested.

Suggested Reading

Avner Holtzman, Avigdor Hame’iri ve-sifrut ha-milḥamah (Tel Aviv, 1986); Itamar Ya‘oz-Kest, “Avigdor Hame’iri ve-shirato,” in Yalkut Shirim, by Avigdor Hameiri, pp. 7–25 (Tel Aviv, 1976).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler