Bidding farewell to ‘the last Arab Jew’

Born in Baghdad, Prof. Sasson Somekh was a prominent expert on Arabic literature, and a notable author and activist. He passed away this week

Sasson Somekh

Raanan Shemesh Forshner writes in +972:

Professor Sasson Somekh, one of Israel’s most prominent experts on Arabic literature and a lifelong proponent of peace, passed away this week in Tel Aviv. A winner of the Israel Prize, Somekh was a notable poet, author, translator, and activist.

Born in Baghdad in 1933 to an educated, secular family, Somekh developed an interest in Arabic culture at an early age, publishing Arabic poetry as a pupil. At age 17, he was forced to leave Iraq and arrived in Israel. The formative encounter between Arabic and Hebrew culture, and his decision to maintain loyalty to both, led him to form a connection between the two. “The task of mediating between the two great cultures, the two sister languages, has become his life’s work,” wrote Mizrahi poet and literary critic Almog Behar.

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“At every stage of my life, the fact that I am an Arab Jew benefitted me, it had a special place,” Somekh told Almog Behar in 2008. “Studying Arabic literature is not disconnected from my being Jewish-Israeli. It was very important to me to see and show how literature in our immediate surroundings is evolving, and largely in comparison with what has taken place in Hebrew literature. As you know, I have been translating modern Arabic poetry into Hebrew for 50 years, and this is my special angle as an Arab Jew who is an Israeli and deals with Arabic literature in Hebrew.”

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