Yehuda Amichai (Hebrew: יהודה עמיחי; born Ludwig Pfeuffer 3 May 1924 – 22 September 2000) was an Israeli poet and author, one of the first to write in colloquial Hebrew in modern times. Amichai was awarded the 1957 Shlonsky Prize, the 1969 Brenner Prize, 1976 Bialik Prize, and 1982 Israel Prize. He also won international poetry prizes, and was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
in We Are All Close: Conversations with Israeli Writers by Haim Chertok (1989)
- If one can pursue two courses simultaneously, why not a dozen? An infinite number? It verges on a sort of science fiction. But I have always been fascinated by doubles, split personalities, and alternative possibilities.
- I am a poet largely because poetry verges closely on mythic power...The fool is the one who insists on his truth to the exclusion of others. And after all, truth, beauty, the very meaning of words-all these are relative values. This is the realm of poetry. However, you could also say that I am a poet as the result of laziness. I am too lazy to write more prose than I do. Prose is like making love to one woman instead of to fifty, which you can do with poetry...Writing should always be a pleasure, spontaneous-like making love.
- America is, after all, the only Jewish community outside of Israel that is surviving. British Jewry is stagnant, dying. Then there are the French, of course, but in the Diaspora only in America is there open Jewish dialogue, vitality. Its Jewish community is thriving and will, I feel, survive. Sometimes, perhaps, it moves in the wrong direction. But it is self-confident and alive. Many people retain their Jewish identity despite marrying non-Jews. I myself have seen it. [Smiling] Perhaps you don't agree, but the mixed marriages they have there are not all that bad. We Israelis tend to patronize American Jewry. Why not instead be happy about it? American Jews accept their Jewishness. I feel, in fact, that we in Israel could learn a little something from this the better to enjoy our being Jewish.
- It could be fairly said that I disagree with the old, false romanticism about Judaism. In practice, Orthodox Judaism can keep you busy nearly all of the time with things you should be doing. Keeps you feeling guilty. But feeling Jewish should also feel pleasurable. What can be wrong with that?
- I myself tell people that Israel is the only place that Jews can live where they don't have always to be thinking about being Jewish. For, as you are aware, the practice of Judaism is, in practice, impractical for many of us Jews.
- When I was eighteen, I joined the British army for four years. I served in Egypt and the western desert: Palestinian [Jewish!] units were kept distant from combat zones. After that came a year in the Hagana [pre-State Israeli army], mainly smuggling arms. Such experience makes one wonder how someone like Reagan, who has never been under fire, can order others to fight and shoot. It's crazy! Immoral!
- Here in Israel, of course, every generation backs away from its parents. Rebels against the old. That has always been the case, and not here alone. Take, for example, Dylan Thomas, now largely ignored. You may be sure that in a few years some Yale professor will rediscover his genius. But I've always kept away from the so-called literary scene, from current fashions. Really, I write for my own pleasure, for my own enjoyment. It's been that way from the very beginning. I have never been involved in any circle or group. In a sense, my politics is in my poetry; it is my poetry. Slogan poetry, the kind written out of guilt, is bad poetry. It just coddles the poet's ego, makes him think that he's done something. But my politics are, in reality, involved in my every poem.
- I've spoken a few times at Peace Now rallies. I am generally against the right wing taking over. But I think I exert more influence, such as it is, through my poems than I would by espousing public positions.
- The Ashkenazic West is more ideological; the Sephardim are, I think, more easy, more human. They don't disown their own because of a football game on Shabbat. Of course I am not talking about Shas; they're just political gangsters. The problem is that the politicians-Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid, all of them have cushy jobs on the side. They don't truly feel responsible for representing voters, the citizens…In Israel your vote has nothing to do with the outcome of an election. Unlike in America, here alienation is built right into the system. But to return to the Sephardim, their good side is that although they may hate each other, they manage to live together...but some of the right-wing Ashkenazim are really psychopaths.
- I am opposed to our keeping all of the West Bank. It's plain that the time has not yet come for Arabs and Jews to be together. All that I really want is to live in a Jewish State. It's a remarkable paradox: the Left is now for policies which would separate the communities while the very far Right, living right there in the occupied territories, are in reality working for integration. Left and Right have exchanged positions, turned completely around. A true paradox! But you know, all such abstractions are relative. What is the "beautiful"? Instead of a sunset or a flower, today it could be a jet plane. Words inflate like money: the more they're printed, the more value they lose. (HC: Do you ever ponder what seems to have gone wrong here in Israel?) YA: Oh, I don't like to complain. We now have our Jewish State. The reality is far from the ideal. The Jewish people have married Israel, this land. But as in a real marriage, things have cooled down. Complaining about it sounds like an old man complaining about his age. An old couple should just live together. That's all. It is, after all, perfectly normal. We have, after all, passed the honeymoon stage, passed the romance, but this is, nonetheless, a true marriage. Such is my Zionism. I am, you see, beyond illusions. In America people, without the slightest intention of doing so, every year repeat "Next year in Jerusalem." Now that is what I call true cynicism.
- (HC: You may now be quasi-retired, but you don't at all sound ready to stop working. Nevertheless, you can look back on much of a lifetime of significant achievement and many awards. What projects have you yet in mind? What do you still want to accomplish?) YA: Oh, to continue with my own thing with poetry: to clean up the language, to use it the right way. I have no wish to be a prophet or a guru. As always, I shall use my own life as my material. You know, I have never been a poet in the professional sense. It's been that way all my life, and so it should remain.
- Yehuda Amichai and Haim Gouri, both poets, also wrote memorable fiction.
- Ruth Wisse The Modern Jewish Canon (2000)