Remembering Amos Oz, Israel's Rock Star of Tolerance

January 7, 2019Anat Hoffman

Amos Oz was a world-renowned Israeli writer, whose work expresses the complexity, the tragedy, and the wonder of Israel. Oz condensed the Ten Commandants into a single commandment, "Don’t Hurt Others!" He then added that if you must, then hurt as little as possible. He was known for his warnings that extremism and violence within Israel would lead to catastrophe. He died with an intact moral compass and a broken heart.

There are great philosophical discussions about the nature of truth, but what of the nature of a lie? That, every child can easily analyze. As a lover of the Hebrew language, Oz was attuned to how language could be used to promote truth, or its opposite. He gave us an audacious warning sign to look out for on the road to calamity. Destruction, according to Oz, begins with the contamination of language. For example, the moment that the word shalom, peace, was used to name a war in 1982’s "Operation Peace in the Galilee," the word became polluted. Amos Oz refused to get used to verbal junk food. He insisted on clean Hebrew, one that was connected to its roots, dodging self-righteousness and pursuing justice.

There are long philosophical arguments about the nature of justice, but what of wrongdoing? That, every child can easily analyze. Stumbling along the way to righteousness does not necessarily prevent us from reaching our destination. Oz taught that when we see the light, it doesn't mean that everyone else is in the dark. He believed that there are many lights, which together make up the greater light shining on an environment that contains within it hope and humanity.

Oz was asked how he teaches creative writing. He responded, "I don’t know if creative writing can be taught at all. I know how to erase, and that is what I teach my students." I learned how to erase from him. How to expunge the lies from our local political rhetoric. How to tell the truth, be precise, listen, dig deeper, and fine-tune.

Oz's voice has been the soundtrack of my conscience. His loss is personal — and national. Israel has been orphaned of its "Rock Star of Tolerance."

It is now up to us to encourage each other to adhere to the truth. We must resist the fake and the false, and adopt Oz’s single commandment to avoid hurting others - particularly those who are too weak to fight back.

His memory will be a blessing.

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