Ben-Amotz, Dahn

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Nationality: Israeli (originally Polish: immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s). Born: Mosse Tehilimzeigger, 1923. Education: Ben Shemen agricultural school, Palestine. Military Service: Palmach during Israel's War of Independence. Career: Radio broadcaster, journalist, playwright, and author. Newspaper correspondent, Paris, late 1940s. Traveled to the United States, early 1950s. Helped create Three Men in a Boat radio show, Israel. Died: 1990.



Lizkor lishcoah. 1968; as To Remember, to Forget, 1968.

Lo sam zayin [Does Not Give a Damn]. 1973.

Ziyunim zeh lo ha-kol: Roman mafteah le-lo man'ul [ScrewingIsn't Everything]. 1979.

Ziyunyune ha-derekh: Roman mafteah le-lo man'ul (sequel toZiyunim zeh lo ha-kol ). 1980.

Short Stories

Arba'ah ve-'arba'ah: Sipurim [Four and Four: Stories]. 1950.

Sipurim poh sipurim sham. 1982.


Tefos kamah she-atah yakhol (Seret-metah-meforash) [CatchAs Catch You Can] (screenplay). 1975; as Mishak yeladim [Nothing to It], 1982.

Tel-Aviv ha-ketanah: Hizayon [Little Old Tel-Aviv], withHayim Hefer. 1980.

'Al 'akhbarim va-anashim, with Ehud Manor, adaptation of a novel by John Steinbeck (produced 1990).


Matsor [Siege], with Gilberto Tofano, 1968;Sheloshah yamim ve-yeled, with Uri Zohar and Amatsia Hiouni, adaptation of a story by A. B. Yehoshua, 1976.


Yalkut ha-kezavim, with Hayim Hefer. 1956.

Mah nishma' [What's New]. 1959.

Ekh la-'asot mah [How to Do What]. 1962.

Milon olami le-'ivrit miduberet [The World Dictionary ofHebrew Slang] (2 vols.), with Netiva Ben-Yehuda. 1972, 1982.

Yofi shel milhamah. 1974.

Keri'ah tamah; Sifrutek [Reflection in Time]. 1974.

Nashim kotvot le-Dan Ben-Amots: Bi-teguvah le-sefer "Ziyunim zeh lo ha-kol," with Varda Rasiel Jackont (correspondence). 1980.

Sipure Abu-Nimer [Stories and Fables from the Arab Folklore]. 1982.

Sefer ha-felots veha-shikhehah, with Donald Wetzel and MartinRiskin. 1985.

Kelil tif'eret ha-melitsah (dictionary and reader of 19th century Hebrew). 1986.

Ten hiyukh: Metav ha-kezavim she-lo hikhzivu ba-'itonut hatseva'it, with Ze'ev Anner and Dani Kerman. 1989.

Editor, with Shlomo Shva, Erets Tsiyon Yerushalayim. 1973.

Translator, with Amnon Dankner, 'Adif melafefon 'al hagever mi-pene she, by M. L. Brooks. 1985.


Critical Study:

Dan Ben Amots: Biyografyah by Amnon Dankner, 1992.

Theatrical Activities:

Actor: Films—A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951; Matsor [Siege], 1970.

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Writer Moshe Shamir captured the essence of the new sabra culture—the native-born Israelis—in his description of Elik, a Zionist pioneer, as a man who came from the sea. Leaving their roots behind, turning their backs on centuries of Jewish history, the sabras were intended to become the antithesis of the Diaspora Jew. Whereas the latter was perceived by Zionist ideologues as weak and passive, the sabras were envisioned as farmers and warriors, masters of their own historical fate. Dahn Ben-Amotz—writer, journalist, actor, and radio personality—exhibited these traits perhaps more than any other member of his generation.

Born Mosse Tehilimzeigger, Ben-Amotz was sent to Palestine from Poland by his parents during his early teens. In Palestine he attended the Ben Shemen agricultural school, which was one of the grooming grounds for the emerging Israeli political and military elite. (His counselor was Shimon Peres.) Ben-Amotz soon realized that in order to blend into the new culture, he had to rid himself of any signs of the Diaspora. He changed his name, first to Moshe Shimony and later to Dahn Ben-Amotz, which he felt possessed the right sabra sound. He also reinvented his personal history, claiming to be an orphan with relatives in some of the older Zionist settlements. For years Ben-Amotz would claim that he was a true sabra.

In the 1940s during the fight for Israeli independence, Ben-Amotz served in an elite underground movement, but he spent the years of the War of Independence in Europe as an emissary of the young state. There he discovered another side of Europe—not the home of Diaspora Judaism that he was taught to despise but rather Europe as a cultural center. After the war he served a short stint as a Paris correspondent for Israeli papers, hoping to hone his writing skills in that intellectual hub. This was followed by an extended visit to the United States that included a stay in Hollywood, where he mingled with the likes of Marlon Brando and Shelly Winters, who were captivated by this "noble savage" from the romantic East. (He had a speaking part in A Streetcar Named Desire. )

His return to Israel in the 1950s signaled the beginning of Ben-Amotz's rise to prominence in the Israeli cultural arena. He was the driving force behind the creation of the radio show "Three Men in a Boat," a weekly satirical review that became the country's most popular show, and he wrote regularly for Israeli newspapers. As a public personality Ben-Amotz epitomized the sabra ethos of strength and self-confidence. He was one of the leading voices of a new culture that created a vibrant, modern language that turned its back on tradition. This was most evident with the publication in 1972 of his dictionary of Hebrew slang, written with Netiva Ben Yehuda, that gave an official seal of approval to the legitimacy of the sabra way of life.

Ben-Amotz's literature, however, revealed another, more vulnerable, side of sabra culture. His short story "Parents Meeting" (1962), drawing on autobiographical motives, revealed the hardships of the new immigrants in an Israeli boarding school in the pre-state era. In the screenplay for the movie Siege (1968) in which he also acted, Ben-Amotz exposed the difficulties that a war widow faces in militaristic Israeli society. And in the novel Does Not Give a Damn (1973) he told of the travails of a soldier wounded in battle and his rehabilitation efforts.

While for years Ben-Amotz concealed the truth about his past and presented himself as a native Israeli (in his later years he dressed in an Arab jalabia and lived in an old Arab house in Jaffa), in his novel To Remember, To Forget (1968) he revealed some autobiographical motifs to which he would admit only much later in life. The novel's protagonist, like Ben-Amotz himself, is a young man who lost his family in the Holocaust and attempted (by changing his name) to re-create himself as a true sabra. The novel was Ben-Amotz's major attempt to deal with the memory of the Holocaust and with the attitudes of Israeli society toward it. In the 1980s Ben-Amotz was diagnosed with cancer. When his disease became known to the public, he also brought to light the truth about his personal history. He made a much-publicized trip to Poland that included a tour of Auschwitz. He told friends that in the visitor's book in Auschwitz he signed under the name Mosse Tehilimzeigger. This was a symbolic gesture that exposed the dual nature of the sabra ethos—repressing the past but at the same time being constantly forced to remember it with all its horrors as an integral part of the collective Jewish experience.

—Eran Kaplan

See the essay on To Remember, to Forget.