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S.Y. Agnon
S.Y. Agnon, photo by Yachin Hirsch, the Dan Hadani Collection

S.Y. Agnon

Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1887-1970), known by his initials S.Y. Agnon, was a respected Hebrew author and is considered one of the most important Hebrew writers of all time. Agnon was the first Israeli citizen to win a Nobel Prize, and was a two-time recipient of the Israel Prize and the Bialik Prize.

Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Czaczkes in Eastern Galicia and received a traditional Jewish education. From the age of three, he studied in a cḥeder, and by the age of nine had waded into the study of literature and foreign languages. His notable scholarly ability alongside his extraordinary literary talent stood out even during his childhood, and as a teenager he was already publishing works in Hebrew and Yiddish journals. In 1908, he immigrated to what was then Ottoman Palestine, settling first in Jaffa and then in Neve Tzedek and devoting himself to writing. It was then that he published his first story Agunot, ("Forsaken Wives") signing it with the pen name “S.Y. Agnon,” which became his official name. The story was well received, and helped to establish the young writer’s status among the Hebrew literary community. In 1912, he published his first book in the Land of Israel - Vehaya Ha’akov Lemishor ("The Crooked Shall Be Made Straight").

In 1912, Agnon moved to Germany, where he continued to write and develop his connections with Jewish writers, poets, scholars and intellectuals. In 1924, a fire broke out in Agnon's house and destroyed his extensive library, including all his writings from his years in Germany. After this traumatic event, he returned to the Land of Israel with his wife Esther and their children. They settled in Jerusalem.

Agnon’s Literary Work

Writing was the center of Agnon’s world throughout his life. His unique style combined his immense knowledge of Jewish sources, the spirit of the Old and New Yishuv as well as modern writing. His work weaves together visible and hidden layers, and many of his descriptions reflect the places where he lived and the events he experienced. His most notable works include Hakhnasat Kalah ("The Bridal Canopy"), Sipur Pashut ("A Simple Story"), Oreah Natah Lalun ("A Guest for the Night") Tmol Shilshom ("Only Yesterday"), Shira, Vehaya Ha’akov Lemishor "(The Crooked Shall Be Made Straight"), and Tehila.  His works, which have been translated into many languages, ​​gained international acclaim, which culminated in his selection as the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 1966. Agnon is considered the most studied writer in Hebrew literature.

S.Y. Agnon's personal archive has been deposited in the National Library of Israel, and many researchers and admirers of his work show great interest in it. The items in the archive reveal various aspects of Agnon's fascinating character, as an author and a private person. Among the items in the Library are many manuscripts and drafts of his work, correspondence with great rabbinic and Hebrew literary figures, as well as leaders and thinkers; portraits of Agnon; thousands of letters he wrote and received; special photographs, including photos from the Nobel Prize ceremony and documentation of family moments. Alongside these, the archive contains books he wrote in addition to books, research articles and news items about him, speeches he gave, as well as stories and anecdotes from his life. His Nobel Prize gold medal is also kept in the Library.