Israel satirist Ephraim Kishon dies at 80

tel aviv | Unbowed by the horrors of the Holocaust, Ephraim Kishon immigrated to Israel and became his adopted country’s most beloved humorist.

But Kishon died in self-willed exile Jan. 29 at 80, driven back to Europe by the same outsider sensibility that made for such great Israeli satire.

Kishon died of a heart attack in his second home in Switzerland, where he had enjoyed material comfort and renown earned from his books, which are translated into 37 languages.

A Hungarian who survived Nazi labor camps, he always enjoyed the irony that his urbane, dry humor — much of it Seinfeld-like riffs on family life — had found a ready audience in Germany.

Soon after arriving in Israel in 1949, Kishon taught himself Hebrew and achieved such virtuosity that he was given the satire column in Ma’ariv. Several successful books followed, including “So Sorry We Won!” in which Kishon mounted a spirited defense of Israel’s triumphs in the 1967 Six-Day War.

In the 1960s, he began working in Israel’s cinema and scored major coups for a nascent national industry. He wrote and directed “The Policeman” and “Sallah Shabati,” both bittersweet social satires that were nominated for Academy Awards.

Kishon won the Israel Prize for his life’s work in 2002. He was to be flown back to Israel for burial. “It is a country where nobody expects miracles, but everybody takes them for granted,” Kishon once wrote about Israel.