Photograph of Efraim Kishon, 1973
Efraim Kishon was born as Ferenc Hoffman in Budapest, Hungary in 1924. He grew up in an assimilated home and knew neither Hebrew nor Yiddish. From a young age he showed a talent for writing but was barred from attending college due to racial laws implemented with the outbreak of World War II; instead, he learned welding. When the Nazis invaded, he was imprisoned in a number of camps but eventually managed to escape Sobibor. After the war ended, he returned to Hungary where he was reunited with his family.
In 1949, Kishon (then still Hoffman) immigrated to Israel, where his name was Hebraized by an immigration clerk. He initially lived in a ma’abara (transit camp) near Haifa and then moved to a kibbutz. During this time, he studied Hebrew and began writing humorous articles for the Hungarian newspaper in Israel. Kishon became so proficient in Hebrew that by 1951 he was already writing a column in Hebrew, and in 1952 he began writing a satirical column for the Ma’ariv newspaper. He became a member of the Hungarian clique – including Dosh, Yosef Lapid, Yisrael Kastner, Ze’ev, and others – that influenced Israeli politics, culture, literature, and journalism in the early years of the state.
Ephraim Kishon wrote his regular satirical column in Ma’ariv for 30 years. He also wrote many screenplays, musicals, and books. His work described, usually in a humorous way, the everyday life of people in Israel and the experiences of new immigrants. His style and characters made Kishon one of Israel’s most important satirists. His fame was not only limited to Israel, and his work was translated into 37 languages. He became especially famous in German-speaking countries, and he made Switzerland his second home.
In the 1960s and 1970s Kishon began writing and directing screenplays and musicals, most of which were humorous. One of his most famous films was Sallah Shabati, which depicted the life of a new immigrant from North Africa. This was the first movie directed by an Israeli to be nominated for an Oscar, and although this film did not receive an Oscar, Kishon was awarded two Golden Globes during his lifetime. Kishon often felt that he did not receive due respect in Israel, presumably because of his right-wing politics at a time when Israel was dominated by left-wing governments. Kishon’s achievements were nonetheless recognised, and he received a number of literary prizes including the prestigious Israel Prize.
This photograph can be used by Israel Studies, Hebrew, and Literature teachers when discussing Israeli literature and authors, particularly Kishon’s works. It can also be used in discussions of Israeli theatre and cinema.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this photograph when presenting Ephraim Kishon, possibly as an example of the successful integration of immigrants into Israeli society.
What is this?
How is the man in the photograph dressed?
What is in his back pocket?
What is he holding?
Describe the location of the photo.
Reading Between the Lines
This is a photograph of Ephraim Kishon.
Where was he born?
When did he arrive in Israel?
What is he famous for?
The books on the shelves are in a number of different languages: English, German, Hebrew, and many more.
What does this tell you about Kishon?
Ephraim Kishon immigrated to Israel from Hungary. Learn more about the time period in which he immigrated. Which other famous personalities immigrated to Israel from Hungary?
Ephraim Kishon did not know Hebrew until he immigrated to Israel.
How long did it take him to learn the language?
Within how many years was he writing Hebrew columns for Israeli newspapers?
What does that tell you about his efforts to integrate into the Israeli society?
Ephraim Kishon was a European Jew, yet he wrote the screenplay for the film Sallah Shabati about Jews from Arab countries. Watch this clip from the movie.
How does he portray American Jews, German Jews, and Jews from Arab countries?
How can you explain this portrayal?
Read a short story written by Ephraim Kishon.
What is his message about life in Israel?
Do you identify with the characters?
Have you ever had a similar experience?
Do you like Kishon’s style?
It is never easy to move from one country to another.
Do you know someone who has recently moved from another country? What can you do to make the move easier for them?
Create a short play based on one of Ephraim Kishon’s short stories.
Look at the covers of these books by Kishon. Choose one and redesign the cover.