Postcard of Shai Agnon, 1990s
This is a postcard containing two photos of the author Shmuel Yosef Agnon. The larger photo is a portrait taken of Agnon on receiving an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University in 1958. The smaller photo is a portrait of Agnon aged 19. Underneath the two portraits are the years of Agnon’s life, 1888–1970 (or as written on the postcard 5648–5730, according to the Hebrew calendar).
This postcard seems to be an invitation to a literary event given by the author and actor Shlomo Nitzan. The postcard can be dated to the 1990s, because it is known that Shlomo Nitzan hosted two evenings of Agnon stories in that time period.
Born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkas, he later changed his surname to Agnon. He is more commonly known in English as S.Y. Agnon and in Hebrew by the acronym Shai Agnon. Agnon was born in Polish Galicia on July 26, 1888 and moved to Jaffa when he was 19 years old. In 1912 he moved to Germany, where he met his wife, Esther Marx. In 1924, the Agnon family moved back to Palestine and lived in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Talpiot.
Shai Agnon is considered one of the important Israeli and Jewish writers of the twentieth century. His works tell stories of the Jews of Eastern Europe and the shtetl (village). He also wrote about the conflict between the traditional Jewish world and modern life. Among his translated works are: A Simple Story, Two Tales: Betrothed and Edo and Enam, Shira, Israeli Stories (including Tehilah and Forevermore) and the anthology, Days of Awe.
Agnon received many awards and prizes during his life, most importantly the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966: “for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people.” He also received honorary doctorates from several universities including the Hebrew University (as depicted in the postcard), Yeshiva University, and Tel Aviv University. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 1954 and 1958, and he has been honoured in many places in Israel and the world, including his hometown of Buchach in Ukraine. After his death, Agnon’s home in Talpiot was turned into a museum.
This postcard can be used by Literature teachers when discussing world authors and their contributions.
Israeli Studies teachers can use the postcard when they are teaching about Shai Agnon and other Israeli literary figures. It can also be used when discussing the influence of immigration on Israeli culture.
Hebrew teachers can use this postcard when teaching the works of Shai Agnon and about his contribution to the Hebrew language.
What is this?
What is written on the picture?
Describe the photographs.
What are the men wearing?
How old do you think they are?
How would you describe their expressions?
Who is the man in the large photograph?
Who is the man in the smaller photograph?
The dates on the postcard are written according to the Hebrew calendar.
What are the corresponding dates in the Gregorian calendar?
Reading Between the Lines
The man in both photographs is Shai Agnon.
Who was he?
What is he famous for?
Which international prize did he win and what for?
What are some common themes in his writing?
The smaller picture is of Agnon when he was 19 years old.
Why do you think this picture was put on the postcard?
The larger photograph was taken at a ceremony when Agnon was awarded an honorary doctorate.
What is an honorary doctorate?
Who receives such honours?
Agnon received an honorary doctorate from several institutions.
Find the names of some of the institutions on the internet.
Look at Agnon’s expression in the larger photo.
How do you think he is feeling?
Why do you think he is feeling that way?
This postcard is not dated, but it was definitely printed after 1970.
How do we know this?
Have you ever read a story by Shai Agnon?
What was it called? What was your impression of the story?
Have you ever received a public honour, for example a prize in your school?
How did you feel when you were honoured?
Agnon was born in Polish Galicia and moved to Palestine when he was 19. He also lived for several years in Germany. The places where Agnon lived are often reflected in his writing.
Have you lived in more than one place?
If so, how do you think your general outlook on life might have been influenced by the places where you’ve lived?
If not, how do you think your general outlook on life is different from someone who has moved around a lot?
Israel is a country of immigrants.
Have members of your family immigrated to Israel?
Where did they emigrate from and when?
What were the circumstances of their move?
How was their experience of life in their new country?
The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded each year to an author who, in the words of Alfred Nobel, produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”
Choose an author who you think deserves to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Create a poster announcing your choice. Include a picture of the author, a list of the author’s important works, and the reason for awarding the prize to this author.
Create a monument to honour Shai Agnon.
What would it look like?
What would be inscribed on it?
Where would you put it?