Writers' Association in Israel

views updated


WRITERS' ASSOCIATION IN ISRAEL (Heb. הָעִבְרִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל אֲגֻדָּת הַסּוֹפְרִים), organization of Hebrew writers established in 1921 in Tel Aviv by a conference of 70 writers, presided over by Nahum *Sokolow. Attempts to found a Hebrew writers' association in Russia and other East European countries had been made by Mordekhai b. Hillel Hacohen, but they proved unsuccessful, generally due to difficulties in procuring a license from the czarist authorities. When the association was founded in Ereẓ Israel, its objectives were set as "the cultivation and growth of Hebrew literature through the cooperative efforts of Hebrew writers; and the defense of the spiritual and material interests of those in the field of literature." The founding conference of the Writers' Association also accepted a resolution "to demand that the Zionist Organization regard Hebrew literature as an integral part of Zionist work and support it."

In the middle of the 1920s, after Ḥayyim Naḥman *Bialik and a group of Hebrew writers from Russia settled in Palestine, substantial impetus was given to the activities of the association. Bialik actively participated in the literary life of the country and declared that:

The goal toward which the Writers' Association aspires is not to make writers in a flock, all of whose members dance to the tune of the same pipe and are under the staff of the same shepherd. We desire and aspire to diversify, to the joy of blessing and plenty. Each must travel his own special path, the path with which God has blessed him; each will demand of himself according to the path he has chosen and according to the gift God has given him. We ask only one thing: that we will all be infused with one consciousness-that the writers are the servants of the nation and of its eternal values.

In 1928 Bialik was elected president of the Writers' Association. Its organ, Moznayim ("Scales"), began as a weekly and then became a monthly. Over the years, many changes were made in the journal and it went through crises and periods during which publication ceased. Editors changed, and with them so did the trends of the publication, but the journal survived and provided an opportunity for literary men of various schools and points of view to contribute. After Bialik's death in 1934, Saul *Tchernichowsky was elected president of the association, and he continued to serve in this capacity until his death in 1944.

The association published series of books, founded funds to aid writers, and in special instances concerned itself with finding work for writers in need. It maintained ties with publishers to determine fair fees for writing and translation. Under the aegis of the association, literary collections were published, meetings and conventions held, a rest home was established for writers at Zikhron Ya'akov, and a house was purchased in Nehorah, in the heart of the newly developed Lachish region, for writers to use.

From 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel, the mass immigration and growth of the population, the association received new members and broadened the scope of its activities. Among its projects are: the Makor Library for the encouragement of original works, in whose framework six books of fiction, poetry, criticism, and philosophy appear each year; Nefesh Books, which serve as a memorial to writers by publishing their works for the first time or reissuing them; the regularly published "Popular Selection of Our Literature" – selections of the representative works of various authors in popular editions; and the Collection of Israel Writers, a large annual in which works by authors of various ages and literary schools are brought together.

From 1951 the association ran the Asher Barash Institute of Records, which serves as one of the important bio-bibliographical sources for research into modern Hebrew literature, especially for students. The institute operates in the following fields: bibliographical records, keeping of archives, collection of newspaper items on writers, and the collection of photographs of writers from various periods of their lives. Among the publications of the institute are the collection Genazim, which appears every two years and includes material from the archives never before published; the quarterly Yedi'ot Genazim, which provides material about dead authors when the anniversary of their birth or death falls during the period of publication.

The Writers' Association is represented in a substantial number of literary prizes awarded in Israel, such as the Fund for the Encouragement of Original Creations, established in honor of Yiẓḥak Lamdan, which is funded by part of the association's budget. Each year it frees a specific number of writers for a period so that they may complete their literary work. The Prime Minister's Fund for Creative Writing was founded by Levi Eshkol in 1968 on the initiative of the Writers' Association. Each year it awards prizes to five authors in order to free them from their daily work for a year and enable them to devote their time to realizing a literary goal. The association also hosts authors – both Jewish and non-Jewish – from abroad.

More than 300 writers belonged to the association in the beginning of the 1970s, and anyone who has published two books is eligible to submit an application for membership. Efforts were made to bring new immigrant writers into the association, and a decision was taken to accept new immigrant authors who did not write in the Hebrew language. The association initiated a project to translate works by these writers into Hebrew (Shevut) in order to both bring these works to the Hebrew-reading public and aid in the cultural absorption of the writers themselves.

The conference of the Writers' Association serves as a forum to discuss problems in the field of Hebrew literature and often resulted in intellectual clashes between different generations and schools of writers. It meets every two years during Passover, and its deliberations also cover problems of a political nature. The offices of the association, including the editorial offices of Moznayim, and the Asher Barash Institute, are housed in Bet ha-Sofer, in Tel Aviv, named in honor of Tchernichowsky. The building also contains the Tchernichowsky Museum. The Writers' Association is represented in the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. The association maintains branches in Jerusalem and Haifa, which carry out their own literary activities, lectures, symposia, and the publication of the yearbooks Jerusalem and Carmelit, respectively.

[Dov Chomsky]