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Dan Ben-Amotz: Icon for Modern Israelis

October 21, 1989

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Dan Ben-Amotz, a bohemian author who was a cultural symbol for a generation of modern Israelis, died Friday of liver cancer at the age of 66.

In April, Ben-Amotz threw a gala party at a nightclub after doctors diagnosed his cancer as incurable. He read a farewell letter to 300 friends and socialites who gathered to give their final regards.

To many Israelis, the husky, bearded Ben-Amotz was a cultural icon who set the style for sabras, as native-born Israelis are called. The term comes from the prickly cactus fruit that is tough on the outside and sweet on the inside.

″He helped create the sabra personality,″ said Zeev Chafetz, an author. ″He was brash, direct, unpretentious, idealistic in some ways, and naive in other ways.″

But Ben-Amotz, a Jewish refugee who was born Moishe Tehilimzunger in Poland and lost his parents in the Holocaust, also symbolized modern Israeli Jews trying to reject their tragic European past.

Ben-Amotz published ″To Remember and To Forget,″ his first full-scale novel, in 1968. In the book he tried to confront such questions as his European past and German guilt over the Holocaust.

As did many immigrants who came to Israel between the 1930s and 1950s, doubling the state’s Jewish population, Ben-Amotz adopted a new name.

He made his impact on Israeli society through his radio talk show in the 1950s called ″Three Men in a Boat.″ The popular show was one of the first Israeli broadcasts to reject the formal Hebrew of the state’s founders and use the common language of the streets.

Ben-Amotz was widely considered one of the pioneers in the revival of modern Hebrew from a dormant language of prayer and study.

He authored a dictionary of Hebrew slang, wrote articles and novels that shocked many Israelis with their frankness - even their titles contained obscenities. He also was instrumental in developing modern Israeli theater.

Ben-Amotz immigrated in 1933 and studied agriculture on a collective farm before joining the Palyam, a naval detatchment of the Jewish underground Palmach militia.

He was active after World War II in smuggling Jewish refugees and weapons to the infant state.

In his later years he worked as a columnist for Israeli newspapers and was a fixture on the Tel Aviv social scene.

Ben-Amotz is survived by four children; three live in the United States and one lives in Israel.

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