Kishon, Ephraim

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KISHON, EPHRAIM (formerly Ferenc-Kishont ; 1924–2005), Israeli satirist, playwright, film writer, and director. Born in Budapest as Ferenc Hoffman, Kishon studied sculpture and painting. After the Nazi invasion of Hungary, he was deported to a concentration camp and managed to escape and survive in hiding in Budapest. "They made a mistake – they left one satirist alive," he wrote in his book "The Scapegoat." Kishon began publishing humorous essays and writing for the stage in post-war Communist Hungary. He immigrated to Israel in 1949 and acquired a mastery of Hebrew with remarkable speed, starting a regular satirical column in the easy-Hebrew daily, Omer, after only two years in the country. From 1952, he wrote a column (called "Ḥad Gadya") which became one of the most popular in the country. It appeared in the daily Ma'ariv, and was devoted largely to political and social satire but included essays of pure humor. His extraordinary inventiveness, both in the use of language and the creation of character, was applied also to the writing of innumerable sketches for theatrical revues. His full-length play, Ha-Ketubbah, "The Marriage Contract," had one of the longest runs in the Israeli Theater, while his feature films, Sallah Shabbati and Blaumilch Canal, which he wrote, directed, and produced, enjoyed international distribution. His sketches and plays have been performed, in translation, on the stages and television networks of several countries. Many titles and various collections of his humorous writings have appeared in Hebrew as well as in translation, the English translations including Look Back Mrs. Lot (1960), Noah's Ark, Tourist Class (1962), The Sea-sick Whale (1965), and two books on the Six-Day War and its aftermath, So Sorry We Won (1967), and Woe to the Victors (1969). Two collections of his plays have also appeared in Hebrew, Shemo Holekh Lefanav (1953) and Ma'arkhonim (1959). In many ways, Kishon, an immigrant who never got rid of his Hungarian accent, shaped the notion of "Israeliness." An ardent Israeli patriot, he was one of Israel's best unofficial ambassadors abroad, and spent the last years of his life in Switzerland and Tel Aviv. Kishon published the Hebrew novel "The Bald Truth" in 1998; a collection of articles, "Picasso's Sweet Revenge," in 2002; and many books for children. In 2002 he was awarded the Israel Prize for his lifetime achievement and for his contribution to society and state.

By 2005, 43 million copies of Kishon's books had appeared in translation worldwide, 33 million in Germany alone. In fact, Kishon's books played an important role in shaping the image of Israel and the Israeli in postwar Germany and kindled the interest of many readers and publishers in Israel and its modern literature. In 1978 he was honored with the Aachen "Carnival Society Against Deadly Seriousness" award, the most distinguished award in West Germany for humorous works.

For a list of Kishon's works in English translation, see Goell, Bibliography, and the ithl website at


Kressel, Leksikon, 2 (1967), 756. add. bibliography: R.L. Cargnelli, "L'humour israeliano: E. Kishon," in: Rassegna Mensile di Israel, 35 (1969), 454–60; N. Bacharach, "Olim ve-Koletim bi-Shenot ha-Ḥamishim bi-Re'i Yeẓirato shel E. Kishon,"in: Alon la-Moreh le-Sifrut, 16 (1996), 109–22; A. Zanger, "Zionism and the Detective: Imaginary Territories in Israeli Popular Cinema of the 1960s," in: Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 3:3 (2004), 307–17; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (January 31, 2005).

[Getzel Kressel /

Anat Feinberg (2nd ed.)]