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One Young Goat

Cridit: Fritz Cohen/GPO

Credit: Fritz Cohen/GPO

Kishon was a popular writer, but often felt he was treated unfairly because of his right-wing politics…

Ephraim Kishon
August 23, 1924 January 29, 2005

Born Ferenc Hoffmann to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, Kishon grew up in a completely assimilated family so he didn’t learn either Hebrew or Yiddish as a boy. However, his writing talents became obvious at an early age, as he won a prize for writing a novel in high school in 1940. But because of the Nazis’ racial discrimination laws, he could not study at a university.

During the war, he was imprisoned in several Nazi concentration camps. In one of the camps, Kishon’s gift at playing chess saved his life, as he befriended the guards over the camp chess board. In another camp, the Nazis lined up the Jewish prisoners and shot every tenth one, but Kishon was passed by. Later he would write in his book The Scapegoat “They made a mistake—they left one satirist alive.”

While being transported to the Sobibor extermination camp in 1944, he managed to escape and spent the rest of the war labouring under the Slovakian pseudonym Stanko Andras. When the war ended, he returned home to Hungary to find that his parents and sister had also survived, while most of the rest of their family had died in the Auschwitz gas chambers. He changed his name to Ferenc Kishont and studied at university graduating in 1948.

In 1949, he escaped then-communist Hungary and made aliyah (immigrated) to the newly formed modern state of Israel. According to Kishon the name “Ephraim Kishon” was given to him by an immigration officer. Ferenc did not exist in Hebrew so we was given the name Ephraim, and Kishon was the name of an Israeli river.

Kishon first lived in a reception camp near Haifa, then on a kibbutz, where he worked as a nurse and learned Hebrew. He soon became proficient in the language of his people and homeland, but his thick Hungarian accent never went away.

After only two years in Israel, Kishon’s Hebrew was good enough that he began writing a column in the daily newspapers, Omer and Davar. He also published his first book, The Pestering Immigrant, which was about the experiences of new olim (immigrants to Israel) during the 1950s. In 1952, he began writing a column for the influential Hebrew newspaper Ma’ariv. The column was called “Had Gadya,” which means “One Young Goat” in Aramaic, and is taken from the Jewish Book of Passover. Kishon wrote the column for 30 years, publishing a new piece nearly every day.

His first big international success was in 1959 “Look Back Mrs Lot”, a New York Times Book of the Month. In 1964, he produced his movie “Sallah” for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and received two Golden Globes for Outstanding Foreign Film and Best Acting Work in 1965. In 1972 he received another Golden Globe for Outstanding Foreign Film for “The Police Man”, which also received an Oscar nomination.

Ephraim Kishon died in Switzerland, January 29th, 2005, at the age of 80. His body was flown back to Israel, and he is buried at the artists’ cemetery on Tel Hai Street in Tel Aviv.

Kishon was a popular writer, but often felt he was treated unfairly because of his right-wing politics…


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