The modern state of Israel was dreamed up in a book, and Israelis are among the biggest readers in the world, with no shortage of world-renowned authors and a Nobel laureate to boot. Here are the must-see landmarks for bookworms in search of a literary journey through Israel.
Beit Agnon (or Agnon House) sheds light on the life and unique writing habits of Shmuel Yosef Agnon, the most famous modern wordsmith of the Hebrew language and Israel’s sole Nobel laureate for Literature. The beautiful two-story building in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, Agnon’s home for 40 years, offers tours and numerous events in English and Hebrew for a chance to learn more about the author’s inspiration and thoughts. After walking its gardens and enjoying its balconies, enter Agnon’s study and 8,000-book-strong library, where he buried himself in his work to pen masterpieces like The Bridal Canopy or Only Yesterday while working at a lectern.
Though Israel is young, the Hebrew language and written Jewish culture goes back two millennia—it is this trove that the National Library in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem seeks to catalog. The proud home to the world’s largest collection of books of Judaica and Hebraica, the library also has numerous special collections ranging from the personal archives of Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem to manuscripts by none other than Sir Isaac Newton (not a member of the tribe). The library has an impressive repository of rare and unique books and manuscripts, which can be enjoyed from its reading room, offering a stunning view of Jerusalem’s mountains.
A visit to Beit Hannah in Kibbutz Sdot Yam offers both a beautiful day trip and a journey through Israel’s early history via the life and poetry of Hannah Szenes. To many Israelis, Szenes is a heroine who left an ideal Zionist life on an Israeli Kibbutz to free Jews facing certain death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators, only to meet the same fate herself after being parachuted into Hungary in a daring mission.
Her legend lives on Israel alongside a modest yet beautiful body of poetry, much of which is still well known and recited as part of Israeli culture. The amazing story of this literary badass is preserved in the seaside house, worth the journey up north.
In Tel Aviv, the short-lived home of Israel’s national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik was once the city’s foremost literary landmark, with young poets and curious fans making the pilgrimage to the beautiful home on the eponymous street. But for Bialik—living on a street named after him, in a building named after him, with scores of visitors who hampered his writing schedule—it was all too much, and he soon moved out. The home, which neighbors Tel Aviv’s historic town hall, was quickly converted into a cultural center, though the city was always reluctant to admit the poet had left. It currently offers both a beautiful architectural landmark and a literary site for those wishing to learn more about the great poet and his works. The home itself sits on a key plaza in Tel Aviv and is well worth a visit anyway.