Israel is home to some of the most influential and widely read poets. The Hebrews, now streaming on IZZY, is a 14-part biographical anthology series about Israeli poets.
After watching the series, here’s what we learned about some of Israel’s most iconic poets. You might just find that their lives were equally as fascinating as their poetry.
1. Avraham Sutzkever
1913 – 2010
Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever was proclaimed to be the “greatest poet of the Holocaust” by the New York Times. He wrote about his despairing experience living in the ghettos, and the other struggles Jews faced during the Holocaust.
He was involved in many acts of resistance against the Nazis and even organized the burial of some important Jewish texts, many of which ultimately survived the war.
Fast Fact: He lived until the age of 103, and testified in the infamous Nuremberg Trials.
2. Yona Wallach
1944 – 1985
Yona Wallach was a controversial feminist and post-modernist Hebrew poet. She is known for her poems about sexuality, and for defying conventional gender roles in her work. She was a provocative figure; one of her poems which described the tefillin during a sexual act, caused uproar.
Nonetheless, she still garnered literary praise, and received many awards including the Prime Minister’s literary award. She reinvented a new type of feminism in which women began expressing themselves as sexual beings and inspired a new wave of feminist poets.
Fast Fact: Yona wrote for and appeared with an Israeli rock group; some of her poems were even set to music and recorded.
3. Chaim Nahman Bialik
Bialik is praised as being a prominent leader of modern Hebrew poetry. His often sorrowful poems display the themes of isolation of the human existence and religion.
Born in Russia, Bialik taught Hebrew most of his life before moving to Tel Aviv when he was 51. He’s widely respected for making the Hebrew language an accessible medium of poetry.
Fast Fact: While he’s considered to be Israel’s national poet (he even has a museum commemorating him in Tel Aviv) Bialik actually died before Israel became a state, and spent most of his life in other countries!
4. Lea Goldberg
1911 – 1970
Born in Prussia, Lea Goldberg began writing poems at the ripe age of 12. She often wrote about love and heartbreak, and her work has been published in 15 languages.
In addition to being a poet she was a successful children’s author, theater critic, translator, and editor.
Fast Fact: Lea never married and lived with her mother until the day she died.
5. Rabbi David Buzaglo
Born in Morocco before immigrating to Israel, David Buzaglo became known as one of Israel’s most notable liturgical poets. In addition to being a poet and rabbi, he was also an esteemed musician; he was especially skilled at playing the Andalusian nūba.
He combined these passions in writing and singing “pizmoním” — religious Hebrew poems which are meant to be sung — making him a “paytán.”
Fast Fact: He went blind at the age of 46.
6. Rachel Bluwstein
Considered by many as the “founding mother” of modern Hebrew poetry, Rachel Bluwstein was one of the only women, impressively the first, publishing modern Hebrew poetry in a predominately male field.
She was also one of the first poets to write poetry in a more conversational style, and is known in Israel as “Rachel the Poetess.” In fact, her works are included in many Israeli schools’ mandatory curriculum.
Fast Fact: Rachel had a romantic relationship with Zalman Shazar, the third President of Israel. He’s even the subject of many of her poems about love.