Science fiction and Fantasy in Israel at the Start of the 21st Century:part 1


The cover of the book FROM TARZAN TO ZBENG the history of Israeli popular literature .

A Hebrew version of this article

This article is the sequel to an article , which describes the history of Hebrew SF and fantasy from the Biblical times till the 90s. This one describes the state of Israeli SF and fantasy in the     and in and specifically in the various non fiction fields of reference ,alternative science  futurism  and in various media in recent years
At the start of the 21st century, the State of Israel is locked in an almost apocalyptic battle for its existence. But at the same time, SF and fantasy fields are blooming.

In 2002, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publication of the book Altneuland [Old New Land] by Theodore Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement (which was first published in October 1902). It describes a trip to the technologically advanced Land of Israel in 1923 in which there is a State of Israel. This book had an enormous influence on the development of the Zionist movement, and was the source of the name of the major Hebrew city, Tel Aviv. In 2002 Herzl’s book was reissued as a paperback by Bavel Publishing.

Reference Works

A number of research studies on SF and fantasy have been issued recently in Israel.
This present author, Eli Eshed, published the book Mada Bidioni Ivri M’kori [Original Hebrew SF] in 1999 (private publication). It includes a detailed bibliographic list, with summaries, of over 300 original Hebrew SF books which appeared from 1892 to 1998.
In 2000 Eli Eshed published Tarzan b`Eretz HaKodesh [Tarzan in the Holy Land] . This describes an industry of original Israeli Tarzan stories published from the 1930s to the 1970s. It includes numerous pictures, and a detailed bibliography of more than 1000 original Israeli stories of the Man of the Jungle, many of which are SF or fantasy. There are stories about Tarzan battling space invaders, and going to other planets. There are stories of horror, monsters, and the supernatural (vampires, mummies, etc.). Some stories tell of Tarzan’s encounters with well known characters such as Flash Gordon (who had many adventures in space together with Tarzan and Boy), Captain Marvel, Dracula, Frankenstein, Doctor Fu Manchu, and others.
In 2002 Eli Eshed published MiTarzan v’Ad Zbeng [From Tarzan to Zbeng] (Bavel, 2002). This book gives the history of popular (pulp) literature in Israel, including SF, from the 1930s. This book, which includes numerous pictures, received considerable attention in the Israeli press, and resulted in Eli Eshed being named “Israeli Author of the Year” by the newspaper Ma’ariv.
Researcher Inbal Saggiv-Nakdimon completed a Master thesis in 1999 on SF in Israel, which surveyed the history of the field in detail, and includes an abstract in English.
Collector Erez Abramovitch (who is also the chairman of the Israeli Society for SF and Fantasy) has for several years maintained and updated a list of all SF and fantasy books which ever appeared in Hebrew (original or translations).
Reuven Kritz is a researcher in fantasy literature who published the book HaMuzar BaSipur HaMuzar [What’s Strange in a Strange Story or the Grammar of the Grotesque] (Pura 1975). This is the most detailed research work in Hebrew to this day (and one of the few) on fantasy genre. It analyzes in detail works by Edgar Allen Poe, E. A. Hoffmann, and Gogol. (Kritz’ work as a fantasy writer is described below.)
An additional researcher in the field of SF and fantasy is critic Orsion Bartana, who has himself written two books of fantasy stories, Sreifot [Fires] (Sifriat HaPoalim, 1985), and HaShaot HaTovot Hen Shaot HaLaila [The Best Hours are at Night] (Ma’ariv, 1994). He has published numerous articles on translated SF, and in 1989 the reference book HaFantasia b’Sifrut Dor HaMedina: Fantasia b’Sifrut HaYisraelit b’Shloshim HaShanim HaAharonot [Fantasy in Israeli Literature in the Last 30 Years (1960-1989)] (Papyrus and HaKibbutz HaMeuhad, 1989).
Another outstanding researcher is Elana Gomel, who has for years published research papers, in both English and Russian, on SF in the Soviet Union and in today’s Russia, and on British and American 19th century fantasy. At 2003 Gomel had published in English the book Bloodscrips:Writing the Violent Subject (Ohio State University Press) which deals with the ways narratives of popular culture (including SF) represent and construct the violent subject: the rational murderer, the serial killer and the perpetrator of genocide.

Futurism and Prophecy

In Hebrew, as in many other languages, there is an enormous range of speculative futurism, pseudo-scientific, and “alternative science” literature, which in many cases isclose to SF.

An outstanding example of a “futuristic – prophetic” work is Mordechai Y. Nessyahu’s book Cosmotism (Poetika v’Tovei Sefer, 1997). The author prophesizes an astounding and unique future for the State of Israel, in a universe which the author assumes is filled with alien civilizations. The author proposes a careful, sophisticated, far-seeing use of Jewish tradition whose source is in the Old Testament. These Jewish principles provide a path to the survival of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, who will spearhead the struggle to save human beings from self-destruction through misuse of nuclear weapons and ecological disasters such as global warming. This book is filled with grandiose speculations and fascinating proposals, and in my opinion is one of the most important books to be published in Hebrew in recent years, but which has not received the attention it deserves. The author, Nessyahu, was one of the ideologues of the Labor Party in Israel, and had a major influence on Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres and their peace program.
Israeli statesman Shimon Peres published a work of prophecy in 1998 B’Reshit Hadasha [A New Beginning] (Zmora-Bitan), in which he describes a new and better future for Israel and the Middle East, “new” as a result of the information revolution, and peace. In 1999 Shimon Peres’ book Im Herzl L’Eretz Hadasha [With Herzl to a New Land] (Zmora-Bitan, 1999) was published. In this half imaginary book Herzl visits modern Israel and compares it to his utopia as described in Altneuland. Peres’ book includes among other things SF and utopia, and the possibilities of their realization. The current reality as we know is quite different from these predictions. We can describe Peres and Nessyahu as “the last utopians”. 

 The book of Yigal Arica Ma Tzofen Lanu HaAtid [What’s in the Future] (Aryeh Nir and Modan, 1999). This book was written by a secular expert on Kabbalah, mysticism, and reincarnation, as well as science, who has written several very successful popular books on these subjects. In this book he describes the future in terms of science, technology, society and economics. This is a comprehensive and optimistic book, perhaps the most readable book of its type in Hebrew.
Asher Idan Madrich l’Meah HaEsrim [The 20th Century Guide Book] (Dyunon, Tel Aviv University, 2000). A very optimistic book about the future and the information revolution, by one of the best-known Israeli futurists. It seems that, since the book appeared, much of the optimism found in this book with respect to the information revolution has dissipated.
An interesting futuristic book about the Internet was by an expert in information systems and management, Dr. Niv Ahituv (who  was  also Vice President and Director-General of Tel Aviv University), whose book Olam L’Lo Sodot [A World Without Secrets] (Am Oved, 2001) foresees in great detail a future world in which all recorded information about any person will be freely available to everyone. In his book he discusses various relevant works of SF.
Sculptor and poet Ezra Orion wrote Pisul Bein-Galakti [Inter-Galactic Sculpture Toward the Third Millenium] (2001). This is a sort of catalog and summary of his sculptural works, and also includes several speculative articles. Orion has been working for years on the idea of sculpture in outer space. He calls it “Sculpture in the Solar System” and “Inter-Galactic Art”. In 1993, using the Mars Rover, he built a sculpture on the surface of Mars. Following a program he sent to NASA, the Rover placed stone upon stone to create a work of art. This work may perhaps disappear from the surface of Mars only after billions of years. This was the first time that an artist proposed building a sculpture on Mars, a program that was actually carried out. Orion calls it “Sculpture in the Solar System”. In addition, starting in the 1980s Orion sent various laser beams into space. This project reached its peak in 1992 as part of the World Space Year. At that time, under his direction, a giant obelisk of energy was sent from laser stations in various countries toward the Milky Way Galaxy. In 2002 he tried to persuade to UN to carry out an additional project of this sort, using even greater power, but he has not yet been successful. He described his astounding artistic and speculative ideas in his books Pisul B’Ma’arechet HaShemesh [Sculpture in the Solar System] (Sifriat Poalim, 1984) and Pisul Alumot Tahalichim [Sculpture with Beams of Processes] (Modan, 2000). All these activities are part of his unusual artistic perception. He is unique in that he believes that there are numerous universes, and that his artistic acts are a way to contact and communicate with them.

Alternative Science and New Age

Immanuel Velikovsky
In recent years a new publisher, Ram, was established to publish all of the works of the controversial researcher Immanuel Velikovsky, who contended that it is possible to explain many events in human history, including stories from the Bible, by collisions of comets with the Earth, from which the planet Venus was formed. This theory had a certain influence on SF, and in its time generated vigorous arguments. The publishing house, which is managed by Velikovsky’s daughter Shulamit, has so far published six books, including some which were never published in any language. One of the books presents Velikovsky’s correspondence about his ideas with Albert Einstein, who was sympathetic to them. The objective is to publish in Hebrew all of Velikovsky’s works, including some which exist to this day only in manuscript.
New age

In Hebrew, as in many other languages, there is an enormous range of “New Age” books, written by people who communicate with God, with angels, or with aliens from around the Galaxy.
The fad began in Israel with well-known Israeli spoon-bender Uri Geller in the 1970s, who contended that he is in communication with aliens, and that he is their representative on Earth. Today Geller supports himself partly by writing SF and fantasy in English, from his home in England.
Particularly noticeable is the fad that has developed in recent years of people who claim they can cure sick people with the “help” of aliens of various kinds with whom they are in communication. This fad received much publicity as a result of the publication by engineer Adrian Dvir of two books Healing Yeshuyot v’Hutzanim [Healing Entities and Aliens] (Gal, 1998) and L’Rapeh im Hutzanim [To Cure with Aliens] (Gal, 2001). In these books he describes his contacts with beings from strange other planets around our galaxy and other galaxies, and the cures that he effected with their help. (Despite the fact that this sounds complete charlatanism, I know very serious people, including the most serious UFO researcher in Israel, Haim Mazar, who claim to have been cured by him.) In his books he also describes other healers in Israel (his competitors) who work with aliens different from the ones he works with. Among other things, he claims to be in contact with the spirit of an American SF writer, but the name he gives is not familiar to me.

UFO Research

UFO research expanded in the 1990s as a result of a wave of reports of sighting of UFOs, and meetings with aliens. The result was the establishment of a society which researched UFO reports, published a periodical, and organized yearly conventions. The high point was a television show with an exceptionally high rating presented by well-known entertainer Dudu Topaz, which was based on the prediction of a “Communicant” that aliens are going to land here that night and present themselves to the public. Thousands went out to the streets to wait for the aliens who were supposed to land to the music of the television program The X-Files. Unfortunately, no aliens appeared. Interest in UFOs has fallen off since then.
Children’s authorTamar Borenstein Lazar published a parody of the whole affair in one of the books of her Kofiko series, which was later made into a play.
UFO researcher Barry Chamish published an interesting book in English which surveyed the history of the phenomenon in Israel, The Return of the Giants (Blue Star Productions, 2000). Chamish is better known in Israel as a leading conspiracy theorist, especially for his contention that the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was organized by members of the government under the direction of Foreign Minister and sometime SF writer and futurist, Shimon Peres.
There are theories that the Old Testament contains the story of the landing of early alien visitors who created human beings. These theories have been very popular in Israel, and several SF books and short stories have been written around them.
An interesting book written from the point of view of a believer in these ideas summarizes the various theories. It is Uri Juda’s HaTanach HaAmiti [The True Bible] (Gal 1999). In the same year Yehoshua Etzion published Sefer HaK’fira [The Book of Heresy – An Interpretation of the Bible] (Tag, 1999) on this same subject.
However, another book, which came out in parallel, represents the “other side”, the skeptical side. This book presents an excellent, comprehensive summary of the negative scientific opinions with respect to the existence of life on other planets. It was written by well-known astronomer Hagai Netzer and popular science writer, Ami Ben-Bassat: Masah el HaTvuna: HaHipus Ahar HaHaim ba’Yakum [Journey to Intelligence: The Search for Life in the Universe] (Yediot Aharonot, 1999).
The talented Moshe Yahalom, a writer of children’s books, comics and popular science (who particularly likes to write about strange scientific phenomenon), published a book about UFOs. Masah b’Ikvot HaAbamim [The Search for UFO’s: In the Eye of Science] (Hed Arzi, 2002) is a comprehensive survey from the skeptics’ point of view, with particular emphasis on the Israeli aspects of this phenomenon. This is an expanded and updated version of a book which Yahalom published a few years ago.
Most UFO researchers in Israel simply report on events which they saw, or heard of here, or heard from reports abroad. The most important Israeli UFO researcher is Haim Mazar, who has published a series of important articles which analyze in a deep, original and serious way the possibility that we are indeed visited by aliens, using serious existing evidence. Unfortunately, Mr. Mazar’s excellent articles have not yet been collected in a book.


Other English articles realated to the subject

Hebrew science fiction and fantasy till the ninties

Hebrew science fiction and fantasy in the ninties


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