April 3, 1970
Hebrew poet and novelist Avigdor Hameiri, Israel’s first poet laureate, dies at age 79.
Born into a farm family in a small Hungarian village, Hameiri had a typical Jewish education and was studying to become a rabbi when he turned to socialism and Zionism. After publishing his first poem in 1909, he contributed articles and Hebrew poems to the Hungarian press and published his first poetry anthology in 1912. As a reporter, he attended the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna in 1913.
He served as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I and was captured by the Russians in 1916. He was released amid the turmoil surrounding the overthrow of the czar in February 1917. He went to Odessa, where he helped revive the Hebrew press serving the large Jewish population. Facing increased Soviet oppression, Hameiri and other Hebrew writers moved to Palestine in 1921, thanks in part to the efforts of Hayim Nachman Bialik, whom Hameiri befriended at the 11th Zionist Congress.
He settled in Tel Aviv, where he established and managed the first Hebrew satirical theater. The first poem he wrote in Palestine became a popular song. After the founding of the state of Israel, Hameiri worked as an editor with the Knesset.
His diverse writing included war stories, kibbutz life, children’s books, personal and political poetry, contemporary novels, and memoirs. His poetry was forceful, imposing, often personal and frequently political. He also translated poetry and plays into Hebrew. He won the Bialik Prize in 1936 and the Israel Prize in 1938.