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June 8: The Secular Israeli

June 7, 2015

220px-Yoram_KaniukYoram Kaniuk, author of more than seventeen novels and a hero of secular Jews for his 2011 court victory allowing him to be identified in the Israeli population registry as a Jew of no religion, died at 83 on this date in 2013. Kaniuk was a sabra, born in Tel Aviv. At 17, he was wounded while fighting with the Palmach in Israel’s War of Independence, and later served as a sailor on ships bringing Holocaust survivors to Israel. His books, which have been translated into twenty-five languages, also include a memoir, collections of short stories and of essays, and works for young readers. Some have compared his satirical style to Kurt Vonnegut’s. Kaniuk’s insistence on being registered as “no religion” rather than “Jewish,” that is, as a Jew by nationality, not religion, created a new verb in Israel, lehitkaniuk (to Kaniuk oneself), and created a small wave of applications by secular Israelis for similar status. “Railing against the establishment and organized religion until the end,” writes Isabel Kershner in a New York Times obituary, Kaniuk wrote a blog in his final weeks damning rabbis and calling on Israel “to let his grandson’s generation be Jewish by nationality and not by religion, unless they chose otherwise, ‘and let freedom go wild.’”

“If you ask me am I proud to be an Israeli, I love being an Israeli, but I’m not so proud.” —Yoram Kaniuk