I read the long story "A Prolonged Childhood and Summer and Winter in Another City" in a literary journal in 1974 and was smitten. The story was brilliant and original, something between Camus and Salinger. The post script indicated that the writer Naftali Yavin was dead and a collection of his stories are due to be published soon after. Indeed in 1976 the collection A Prolonged Childhood was published.
Naftali Yavin (1936—1972) was an Israeli playwright, director and an author. He worked in London for the last part of his life (1968—72) and was best known for his active role in the British fringe theater of the 1960s. .
In 1976 I got a hold of Yavin’s brother Hanan who gave me all his unpublished manuscripts which I typed and edited. Later Hanan used this edited unpublished material which I gave him to produce a play based on his writings.
Yesterday when I was going through my papers I discovered my 1983 translations of some of Naftali Yavin’s work , I retyped the story “Maybe Poland” and it is pasted below.
All those years he longed to travel; to travel away from home, out of the country, to travel far, very far, as far as possible. But the difficulties he encountered were enormous. So he travelled seldom, only when it was absolutely necessary. Sometimes, his work forced him to travel to Haifa or Jerusalem, but because of all those difficulties he postponed such trips as long as possible. Only when he could no longer put it off and could not avoid the absolute necessity of the trip, did he make the needed plans for it.
It is hard to imagine all the difficulties he encountered even when the trip wasn’t very far, to Haifa for example, and even when it was a relatively short trip—a day or even a few hours. The preparations took many long hours and even the thought of them was in itself a hardship. Various matters like the choice of the right clothes for the weather and for the nature of his business, not to mention matching those clothes to his personal taste which was very particular, varied and changeable, caused endless hesitations. Other things, like choosing the means of transportation, the time of departure, or choosing the right bag or suitcase, usually added more hours of preparations. In the end, of course, the preparation for the trip took longer than the trip itself.
Since all those preparations caused infinite delays and resulted in complications and difficulties in his work, he made a practice of planning his trips very early in advance. When he came back from one trip he immediately planned the next one. All the other affairs in his life suffered as a result, but this way at least he could travel as much as needed. Under such circumstances, it was difficult, of course, to consider more extensive travelling. He hardly could accomplish one long trip a year.
To make things easier for himself he decided to limit the extent of his work and the range of his travelling. Haifa and Jerusalem were out of the question. Petach Tikva, Lod, Rehovot were more feasible for him. But as time passed, the things that he had to consider for this kind of travelling were so elaborate and complicated that even those short trips became impossible. At this point he decided that trips to the other side of town would suffice.
For a while this arrangement was satisfactory. Many things that were essential for longer trips now became unnecessary. Certainly this was no small relief. Now he found time to devote to smaller details. He discovered other things that he hadn’t thought of before. The importance of those things increased, and attending to them required much more time. After a while he realized that he had not gained anything from the new arrangement. All his thoughts, emotions, energy—in short, his entire being, was wrapped up in preparations and planning
“I have no time for anything else” he said to himself. “I should put an end to it”.
He made up his mind to stop the whole business of travelling altogether and so he did.
From now on he stayed at home most of the time, pushed out of his life everything related to travelling and limited himself to walking--- a short distance for a short time. Of course he needed to drastically change his way of life and reduce his needs. “But it is all fot the best” he said to himself. He found another job which he could do in his room, went out only to the nearby grocery store to do the most essential shoppings and came right back to his room. More and more he found that he had long, vacant blocks of time at his disposal. He reduced the number of his activities and circumscribed his movements. He did only what was absolutely necessary and focused only on what was needed most. He devoted hours, even days to the Minute things happening around him. He dedicated weeks and months to the smallest detail.
One morning he died while sitting motionless in his chair, totally immersed in one small detail. An observer wouldn’t have noticed the difference, and he himself, one should add, missed his moment of death, which he had anticipated, prepared for and concentrated on all his life.
In another era, in other times and in another country he would have been, no doubt, an adventurer or a courageous explorer, but as things are in our time and in our country, it is doubtful whether he could have acted differently than he did, and his death, obviously, could not have been any other death
Translated by Orna Raz
Two years ago the Israeli newspaper Haaretz dedicated a whole issue to Yavin and his work. Yavin's personal story was translated into English and I am pasting it below. I feel that it sheds light on a very talented man and gives us some taste of the fringe theater at that time. In addition it reveals the difference between Tel Aviv and London at that time.
A single man
Bursting with talent, director and playwright Naftali Yavin left young Israel for the London theatrical world, where he wrote his masterpiece, 'Prolonged Childhood, Summer and Winter in Another City,' published shortly after his death; celebrating his work, Haaretz Magazine followed Yavin's footsteps and asked leading designers to create a new cover for this rare gem of Hebrew literature.
By Dalia Karpel | Jun.24, 2011 | 12:35 PM
Nearly 40 years have passed since Naftali Yavin suffocated in his sleep and died, in London, on June 5th, 1972. It was thought to be a suicide at first. But the autopsy found that his death was caused by ingesting a half-bottle of whiskey and four sleeping pills. A jar full of sleeping pills remained near his bedside. He hadn't taken them.
He was 36, a theater director, playwright and author, caught in an emotional crisis. During the last months of his life he'd been having a rough time after his New Zealand-born girlfriend left him following five years together. Friends recall that from his youth, Yavin had a tendency toward depression, and that he was often on the emotional brink, but the dark part of his soul was concealed by his charismatic personality and great talent. And many women were attracted by his Marlon Brando-like charm.
But nihilism and apathy gained the upper hand. A large proportion of the stories Yavin penned in the last two years of his life reveal the extent to which existential despair and thoughts of death preoccupied him. His younger brother, Hanan Yavin, now 63, was studying cinema in London at the time. He remembers that near the end Naftali was drinking crazy amounts of alcohol, sometimes an entire bottle of whiskey in a single day. He was coming undone.
In April 1972, two months before his death, Yavin was interviewed for the theater magazine Play and Players. Although his emotional state was apparently deteriorating, his theater career in Britain seemed to be taking off. He had recently directed two successful plays by British playwright James Saunders - "Games" and "After Liverpool" - as well as an adaptation of Peter Handke's "Offending the Audience."
The magazine interviewer, Peter Ensor, who would later become a cultural reporter for the BBC, noted that Yavin was late for the interview because of his shift working in the kitchen at Interaction Theater - an experimental avant-garde theater, where he was a director and moving force. Ensor was impressed by the unique theater that operated as a collective - like a cultural kibbutz right in the heart of London. Yavin explained that the group was influenced by the German Bauhaus school of the 1930s, and subscribed to socialist ideas: They wanted to do good theater work in order to provide members with a hot meal every day, a weekly salary of seven pounds sterling and a place to live.
But even amid all his London success, Yavin always returned to his Tel Aviv childhood of the 1940s. In another interview that same year, he said: "You know what got me into theater? A camel! When I was six, we did an end-of-the-year show in school. The teacher made a play out of part of the story of Abraham, the first Jew, who bought the first piece of land from Ephron the Hittite - a big deal in terms of Jewish nationalism. I wanted to play Abraham. Like mad. I wanted to be the star of the show. I knew I would do a great job. The teacher said: 'Whoever is sitting nice and straight, hands behind their back, will be Abraham.' I never sat so straight in my life as I did then. But she didn't pick me. I wasn't chosen for the part of Efron the Hittite either. After that she decided who would play Rebecca and Sarah, and other roles, and all that was left at the end were donkeys and camels. I think I was the saddest camel that ever walked the Hebrew stage."
Naftali Yavin was born in 1936 to Tzila and Menahem Binstock, who immigrated to Palestine separately in the 1930s and met in Haifa. Menahem came from Berlin, where his parents had a clothing shop. Tzila came from Poland, where she grew up in the same town as Malka, mother of playwright Hanoch Levin. Tzila and her four sisters grew up in a relatively affluent home, thanks to the family's glass factory.
When Naftali was four, his family left Haifa and moved to Tel Aviv, to Shulamit Street. His father worked as a taxi driver and his mother was a housewife. His brother Hanan, a director of community theater, remembers that their mother made their father's life miserable.
"The chasm between them was huge," says Hanan. "He was a cultural animal. He listened to Mozart, Wagner and Schubert, read all the time and admired Nietzsche, who wielded a significant literary and intellectual influence on Naftali and me. My mother, on the other hand, never got tired of talking about how she missed out on a career as a singer and actress, about how many wealthy suitors she had in her youth, and how for some reason she ended up marrying such a schlepper. We got our theatricality from our mother: She would put on plays for the family and was the center of the household. My parents really didn't want Naftali to get involved in theater, and whenever there was a negative review of his acting, my mother would make fun of him. After he died, she read his stories for the first time, and cried over what she saw as a soured relationship between them."
His father died of a heart attack in 1969, when Naftali was working in London. His mother lived until age 92, and died in the last decade.
The portrait of life painted in Yavin's stories and his play, "Precious Moments from the Family Album," is of a suffocating, sometimes monstrously overbearing mother. Poet Uri Bernstein, a friend of Yavin, remembers that he was very attached to his mother.
"Granted, in his writings he accused her of all sorts of things, but he was also too attached to her. It kind of fits with the cheap psychology concept of someone who is very tied to his mother and tries to free himself, so he goes abroad as a form of running away."
Yavin attended Hamerkaz School on Zamenhof Street. His former classmates recall a nice blonde boy who wasn't the most popular, but was certainly accepted. The stories he wrote in London about his childhood show that only when he was far from home did Tel Aviv become his emotional homeland and the focus of his nostalgia. In the final months of his life he compulsively returned to those years.
"He became fixated on childhood trauma and became gradually more detached," his brother said last week. "I was surprised by how dominant childhood was in his life. It stunned me that he felt like a professional failure, when there was no justification at all for feeling like that Yavin's depression was evident. He lived in housing that the British Council for the Arts offered to theater people - in an abandoned building in an area slated for demolition, in London's Camden neighborhood. He had a simple room: bed, closet, desk and lots of books and classical music records.
"He slept late, smoked and drank and didn't try to hide that he was in deep depression," Hanan Yavin remembers. "He would get up at noon, go by the theater offices, look around, speak with a few people, consult. Remember, they saw him as a guru. Then he would go to visit his playwright friends - Tom Stoppard or James Saunders or David Mercer - and drink into the night. Sometimes he would go to Hampstead Heath park and meet Natan Zach and play chess with him. Often writer Benjamin Tammuz, who was Israel's cultural attache, would join them.
"Naftali wasn't doing anything then. He drank Johnny Walker. At some point he would burst out in tears and berate himself for being a failure and get consumed by terrible self-pity. He left a huge debt at the local pub that I took care of after he died. But he still worried about maintaining appearances. He had money that Ed Berman, the guy he founded the theater with, gave to him. Naftali was a hedonist and liked to go to good restaurants and Berman always paid. At the theater, Naftali was admired and loved.
"Berman didn't understand what was wrong and why Naftali was in such a bad state, so he sent him at the theater's expense to a psychiatrist in London, the same one who was treating John Lennon then. I met the psychiatrist after Naftali's death, and he told me that it was very hard to help him because he knew himself better than anyone else. Near the end, Naftali was supposed to fly to Los Angeles to be treated in the clinic of a famous psychiatrist recommended by his friend, film director Dusan Makavejev. But Berman couldn't come up with such a big sum of money."
An officer and an actor
"I've wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember," Yavin said in a 1966 interview with Emanuel Bar-Kedma in Yedioth Ahronoth. "Why? Because I was searching for myself. I've always been searching for myself. I thought , maybe, through other, dramatic, identities, it would be easier for me to find myself. I've spent most of my life searching for myself."
He got his first taste of theater at Geula High School, in drama class. The teacher was none other than Nissan Nativ. "I was a beginner then and of course I wasn't aware of all his capabilities, but I saw a talented teenager who was crazy about the theater," the renowned actor, director and acting teacher commented in 1986, in an interview I conducted regarding Yavin for Ha'ir. Nativ gave the talented kid the lead role in a Moliere play.
The teen attended after-school drama classes, acted in the Bimateinu children's theater and planned to try out for an Israel Defense Forces entertainment troupe. But he changed his mind after reading somewhere that an actor needs to absorb as many real experiences as he can. Uri Klugman, 75, was in Naftali's ninth-grade class and met up with him again in August 1954 when they were both in a unit sent by the army to basic training combined with preparation for becoming officers. They spent three months living side by side in a tent.
"Basic training was tough. At one point Yavin was asked to put on a play about what happens if you don't clean your weapon well," Klugman recalls. "He took me as his assistant and for a month, instead of killing ourselves in strenuous training drills, we had fun rehearsing. We became the entertainment team." He remembers Yavin as "a friendly and brilliant guy, full of humor, who liked to clown around."
Eventually, Yavin went on to an officers' course and was stationed at an anti-aircraft base in Herzliya. After his discharge, he returned to Nissan Nativ, who had by then gathered together young actors like Yossi Garber, Uri Zohar and Gideon Lev-Ari and opened a small acting studio.
"They were select theatrical material," said Nativ, who, after taking over as director of the Habima drama school, suggested that Yavin come, too. But he didn't pass the entrance auditions. "To my astonishment, members of the Habima collective didn't take him because one of the 'big shots of the generation' said that Yavin was arrogant, that his knees didn't tremble when he came in for the audition," Nativ added in the Ha'ir interview. "I fought hard for him and they accepted him for a two-week trial period. After just a week, they promoted him to the next class. Even then he was an extraordinary individualist. Yavin was one of the most promising talents this country has ever seen." After two years at the Habima school (where he studied alongside Gila Almagor and Alex Peleg ), Yavin was accepted into the Habima Theater troupe. Over five years, he played a variety of small roles, there and elsewhere, and also served as an assistant director. In 1966, the theater put on "The Subject was Roses" by Frank Gilroy. Yavin played the son; Nahum Buchman and Lea Koenig were the parents. The Haaretz theater critic called Yavin's acting "free, uninhibited, multifaceted and convincing"; Maariv called Yavin "a refreshing, likeable and promising actor"; a review in Lamerhav described his work as "warm, convincing and touching. But his frustration grew over time, and in the interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, he declared: "In theater I search for the line, for the artistic and social logical continuity. I have this need to say something new, something that's mine alone."
In addition to acting classes, some in the studio of director Hy Kalus, Yavin went to lectures in philosophy and literature at Tel Aviv University. In 1961, together with David Levin (Hanoch Levin's brother ) and Amos Meroz, he started the first experimental poetry theater in the country, offering readings of modern Israeli works before an audience.
He acted in several plays and also set to work writing his first play; he completed "Veyakov Ish Tam" ("And Jacob was a Simple Man" ) after four years. This is what Yavin had to say about it that 1966 interview: "The play is a part of me. A partial answer to long years of self-searching. This is reflected in the play, too - it's a play that's searching, that's experimental. But there was an added bonus too. With the grant I received to complete it, I was able to travel abroad and there I had my first encounter with major theater." On that trip abroad, his first, Yavin was exposed to the work of British director Peter Brook. His encounter with the Berliner Ensemble, Bertolt Brecht's East German theater group, also left a very strong impression on him.
First major blow
Yavin was well aware that "And Jacob was a Simple Man" was not an easy play that could expect to be a big hit, but he hoped that theaters would be interested in it and particularly that it would be performed by the Cameri Theater. The play's rejection was the first major blow he suffered.
Director Yossi Yizraeli, who worked with him on the play, recalled last week: "Within five minutes, Yavin and I became friends. We worked for weeks to promote its chances of being put on by the Cameri. The problem was that Yavin wasn't understood by Israeli theater, and this is also why we had such a deep friendship, apparently. I felt like I'd found my twin. Naftali was too sensitive for a place like Israel."
Artist and set designer David Sharir, who introduced the two, still has his sketches for the sets of the play that was never performed. "When we submitted the project and the sketches to Cameri director Shaike Weinberg, his response was: 'Are you mad?!' ... He saw that it was a surrealistic, absurdist kind of play. In those days, an Israeli play had to fight for its existence. Yes, they let Nissim Aloni work, but the theaters mostly put on historical and topical plays. Ionesco plays were done here, but to have someone local put on a play in an international style? There was no way, even though Yavin's play was also very Israeli. Yizraeli and I still think that it's one of our best works - that if money had been invested in it, it could have become one of the most interesting works in the theater."
"The establishment often crushes people who don't have power," Yizraeli adds. "Yavin was no different than Yevgeny Arye, Michael Gurevitch or Ofira Henig in our generation. But Naftali was too sensitive for these wars. There was a dark cloud that hovered over him, something from his childhood, a sadness that fed his creativity. He felt deeply offended that all these yokels didn't recognize the depth and complexity of his work. But even with all his depression, he had a big appetite for life. He was never content to just sit back. History is written by people like Naftali, who was like a torch in the darkness.
"The theater today is a mixture of a clowning and shallowness which has become an ideology; populism has become policy. I'm glad that his writings are being published. Maybe it will give hope to young hopefuls in the theater today. I miss him. Great artists live in extremes. Mentioning him today is like giving the finger to the theatrical establishment."
Despite the setbacks in Israel, the British Council awarded stipends to support the production, the director and the playwright; Yavin, who had a scholarship to pursue a master's degree at the University of Manchester, moved to England in the summer of 1966. Before that he completed the play "Salaf," a cycle comprising eight scenes, whose title was later changed to "Precious Moments from the Family Album to Provide You with Comfort in the Long Years to Come."
His friend, actor and director Hillel Ne'eman, says that when they started the Open Theater, he proposed that Yavin mount the play, but Amnon Meskin, Michael Kafir and Oded Kotler said the work wasn't good enough. It was eventually staged in London and earned Yavin good reviews. In Israel it was adapted into a radio series.
Yavin was wonderful," Kotler said last week. "Bright and intelligent. He had a very special and unusual literary talent. I don't know if he was a great playwright, but he put some very intriguing things on the page. Something about his theatrical writing was not ripe enough ... [to be] easily staged, and there was a period when something inside him started to break down. I know he was disappointed that I didn't put his plays on at the Open Theater. We didn't have an appropriate framework. I didn't really connect to the material either. Yet there was something interesting an intriguing about them, and he showed an ability that would have really come to the fore later had he not died so young."
Conquering the world
Kept in the storage area of Hanan Yavin's Tel Aviv apartment are several yellowing files from the estate of his brother Naftali. The years have left their mark on them; Yavin's works, in a rounded and clear handwriting, have faded a bit. The staples have rusted, the pages have taken on a brownish tint. Here are some notes for a lecture on the essence of non-dramatic theater, and notes for a talk on theater and poetry.
In the works collected in the files, Yavin writes in one place that he is "not a lecturer, but an actor and playwright" and prefers to hold a conversation with the audience. He makes a note to himself to end a talk with a quote from Thomas Mann: "Drama is a form of poetry. But theater is not literature ... It does not really need it, it can exist without it." He vacillates over the question: "Is there any point in reading poems? One possible answer - No!" Elsewhere, he prepares a speech for an evening of poetry reading, writing that he would feature works by his favorite young poets: Amihai, Zach, Avidan, Ravikovitch, Pinkas, Ayin Hillel.
On the way to Manchester, Yavin stopped in Paris and visited the playwright and author Yosef Mondey. They went together to see theater, which was different than what he was familiar with.
"It opened up his eyes," Mondey told me in 1986. "We talked about the situation in Israel, about how there was nothing here. One night he stood up on a chair and declared: 'I'm going to conquer the world.' I told him, 'Naftul, please, go be Napoleon.'"
And off he went. In Manchester he finished writing "Precious Moments from the Family Album," which was staged by students and later by the International Theater Club in London. He received a grant from the British Cultural Council for another year. Then he met Ed Berman and they found a common language.
Berman was a Jewish-American director, born in 1941, a Harvard graduate, who'd come to England to complete a thesis at Oxford and was drawn to a combination of theater and social work. He and Yavin began kicking around the idea of a kibbutz-theater in London, eventually establishing the Interaction Theater cooperative, which ran the Almost Free Theatre. The name was a play on words; the audience members were asked to leave a donation of their choosing. Yavin was the group's artistic director, and it became the best-known fringe theater group in England, and was involved in bringing drama to mental hospitals and juvenile detention centers, among other things.
They didn't have money at first, but before long, with support from the arts council, the Interaction Theater operated in three venues and had three troupes: street theater, children's theater and "ambience" theater, which presented more mainstream plays. They mounted plays by Pinter, Saunders, Mercer and Handke, as well as Yavin's "Precious Moments," which also came out in book form in 1969, and was performed in New Zealand, the United States, Denmark and Germany as well.
Yavin and Berman's theater garnered positive responses at festivals, too, and won prizes. A large financial grant made possible the opening of a large, permanent venue in London's West End. It was described as the most important experimental theater group in England. Yavin turned down offers to work in the established British theater and preferred to remain with his friends from the collective, who'd formed a very stable and professional group. They lived together, jointly wrote and worked on avant-garde experiments, involved the audience in plays, and erased the boundaries between the stage and the audience. Members of the collective who had trouble pronouncing Naftali's name called him Alec or Naf.
In an interview with theater producer and director Yaakov Agmon on Army Radio during a 1970 visit to Israel, Yavin said that the cooperative held discussions twice a week. Agmon inquired whether there was sexual freedom among the group and Yavin said yes. "There's no theory behind it. There is total freedom and people do exactly what they want," he said. "If someone wants to be gay and has a boyfriend, then he sleeps with him in the same room."
Asked about group sex, Yavin added that if that's what the members wanted, it was fine: "We're not making a declaration here. We just realize that it's good for creativity, it helps everyone ... not to feel lonely, to belong, to do something that's artistically and socially meaningful, and personally satisfying." In 1968, the poet Uri Bernstein attended some rehearsals in London. He says Yavin elicited fluidity and ease from his actors without losing the intellectual dimension of the profession. "It was a theater of boldness, of youth and of intimacy," he says. In the play "The Box," the audience sat outside the walls of a closed room and watched the actors through small openings. Gradually the walls were removed and in the end the audience found itself sitting together with the actors, and the play became a shared experience for all.
The press in England and Israel reported on Yavin's unique brand of theater. While he seemed at that time to be taking the world by storm, inside he was still that same adolescent playing with friends in the Tel Aviv summer evenings. He wrote that sometimes he would "see bits of sights like pictures. A street corner. A house. A square. All still-lifes" from that city where he lived most of his life, but none of these pictures was dear to his heart, and he wondered if he was severing or strengthening ties to his homeland.
Hanan says that Naftali was hurt that he didn't get to work in Israel. Each yearly visit became a festering wound: He would meet with local theater directors and go away disappointed. In March 1970, the British Council brought his theater group to Israel, and it presented several plays that he directed. Feeling awkward in a suit, Yavin stood at the British Embassy and shook hands with people who came to the reception.
"His laugh was bitter and sarcastic," Bernstein remembers. "Everything revolved around leaving here. He was more Israeli than anyone. Maybe if he'd been accepted here he would have come out of the depression. He had a dream that his mother would sit in the fifth row at Habima and watch a play that he directed. He had a lot of friends and at the same time he was lonely as a dog. He saw love as a sign of success, and all his successes there didn't really interest him in the end."
'A time of orgies'
Yavin's girlfriend at the time was Sue Ellen, a New Zealander who worked at the BBC, a beautiful woman who loved and looked after him. But Hanan says that when Naftali started drinking and became self-destructive, she couldn't take it anymore. Bernstein knew Ellen well, and remained friendly with her after Yavin's death. In 1977 he published a poetry cycle entitled "An Evening with Sue," containing a poem called "Memories of a Friend: Who Died" that opens as follows: "The first time he came to see me I forgot he was dead / wearing familiar clothes and smiling a lot / and I didn't touch the dead man for fear his limbs might fall off / since he was buried without a coffin and must have been rapidly decomposing."
"They embarked on a complicated sexual adventure," says Bernstein, trying to explain why the couple split up. "It was a time of orgies and they brought others into bed with them and did all kinds of experiments. There was tremendous sexual pressure, and also a great mutual attraction and great love. When I met her in London about a year after Yavin died, she was still obsessed with his memory. Our meeting was intense and we both brought up memories. This poem is essentially a summary of her relationship with Naftali. She was beautiful and bright, and she was his great love. One reason for his depression was that she left him. She'd had enough of that way of living. He wouldn't agree to be with her exclusively, and she said enough. But she kept on loving him."
The breakup was hard. Yavin returned to his room in the cooperative; she moved in with a girlfriend. Yavin would go see her and come back in tears.
"I was working hard [at school] then and we would see each other on Sundays," Hanan Yavin recalls. "On the last night he was just drinking and crying and blaming Mother for everything. He thought that she ruined things with his previous girlfriend Hadassahh Brill [see box] and with Sue Ellen, and he kept saying there was no point, that it was hopeless. He wouldn't let anyone in. Toward the end, there was talk of plans for future work, but the depression was stronger. His thoughts kept going back to our parents' home, and what they did to him in childhood and why didn't they let him go on the class trip for fear he'd get sick, and why didn't they buy him a bike and so on. He went back to all the things that were forbidden to him in childhood and it broke his heart. He was anguished over the way he was coddled and how they tried to groom him as a genius. On the last night of his life, the family and the country, Israel, became one entity in his mind and he felt like an abandoned child. I have no family and no children, he said."
On his last afternoon in June 1972, he went to see the movie "Sitting Target" with Oliver Reed, in a London cinema. Hanan met him afterward, and saw that he looked despondent. It was 2 P.M. and the pub was still closed so the two of them walked around until it opened. It pained him to see his brother crying on strangers' shoulders in the pubs. At 10 P.M., after Hanan left and returned to pick him up, Naftali bought himself another bottle for the road. Hanan and Robin, an Australian woman who worked in the theater and was at the same pub, brought him back to his room. They undressed Yavin and put him to bed. Naftali mumbled something incoherent and fell asleep. Two hours later, friends find him sprawled in the bathroom. They picked him up and brought him back to bed. It was then that he apparently took the four sleeping pills. He must have died shortly before dawn.
Ed Berman accompanied the coffin to Israel on June 11th, 1972; Uri Bernstein and the poet Yair Horwitz, a good friend of Yavin's, were waiting at the airport. The funeral was held on a hot humid day. Yossi Yizraeli remembers Hanoch Levin hurrying to take hold of one handle of the stretcher. Family and friends followed the body through the deep sands of the Holon cemetery, slowly and silently, until they reached the burial plot at the far end.
What others say about him
Yavin's story collection "Yaldut memushekhet vekayitz vehoref be'ir aheret" ("Prolonged Childhood and Summer and Winter in Another City" ) was published by Siman Kriyah in 1976. Uri Bernstein edited the book and wrote its afterword. In 1991, a new edition was published by Kinneret.
"It's important for people to recognize Yavin's literary writing talent," says Bernstein today. "He created a new Israeli writing style in a special, post-modern Hebrew, before anybody ever talked about post-modernism. His voice was original and came straight from the gut. Yavin was always putting up a facade. He never talked about his troubles and always seemed cheerful and full of confidence. Don't forget that he was an IDF combat officer. Women swooned over him and he used to say: 'I have no problem with that.' He was handsome and charming and very intelligent. He was in a constant battle to get the most out of life and one way was to sleep with as many women as possible. When did he get in touch with himself? When he wrote. So his writing was confessional, and something that he came to late. It was a refuge through which he hoped to be accepted in Israel. If only he would have lived to see the book come out."
Poet Yair Horwitz was a good friend of Yavin's and stayed with him and Sue Ellen when he visited England. Bernstein describes how Horwitz, short on cash, would buy a live chicken at the market and bring it back to the apartment for Sue Ellen to cook. When I interviewed Horwitz in 1986, he said that Yavin never revealed his private hell, except in his writing, which was extremely personal.
"There was a side of Naftali that he kept closed off, even to his closest friends," the poet explained. "In all his work, though, something bursts forth. But in his life and behavior he kept a lid on the well."
'A void in his soul'
Hadassah Brill and Yavin had a very tempestuous love affair. Brill has been living in Milan for more than 30 years. For the past decade, she hasn't spoken with any of her friends from her native Israel; she has detached from the place. The phone call about Naftali Yavin left her stunned. "It's like raising someone from the grave," she said in halting Hebrew. She has memories from Israel from 60 years ago but will no longer visit here. "It's no longer my city, my country or my homeland," she says.
Brill, a gifted pianist, has since stopped playing and now works as a translator. She and Yavin met in 1960 at a party in Tel Aviv when she returned from Indiana University. A great love affair ensued, lasting five years. They lived in a rooftop apartment on what is now Ben-Gurion Boulevard. She recalls that the first reading of Yavin's play "And Jacob was a Simple Man" was held in her room at her parents' home.
Actor and director Hillel Ne'eman recalled last week how "the gang" used to gather at Brill's parents' house to listen to her marvelous piano playing.
"Yavin was an outsider and didn't get along in society, he was in conflict with himself and the world. As if something was haunting him and he didn't know what," says Ne'eman. "There are some people who are unable to grasp that something is disturbing them. He had trouble forming relationships with people. He and Hadassah were two ambivalent types, and in that kind of encounter, the one thing you can count on is that nothing will work out."
Brill says she has some unpleasant memories of Yavin at that time: He had a "Don Giovanni complex. He had to bed as many women as possible and expected me to just take it all and keep on being his woman. He had such serious problems with himself." In the last year of their relationship, she was working and studying in Milan while he remained in the Tel Aviv apartment.
"It was a love story but I was naive. I was so confident of our relationship that I thought that even if we were far apart, nothing would happen and it would last forever. I still have the letters that he wrote me every week. When I got back, Naftali told me that it was over, that he didn't want a binding sort of relationship. It was a hard blow. I knew that Naftali was anxious and insecure, that there was a big void in his soul. He would often say that he still hadn't got used to the idea that he was alive. He was like the shifting sands
P.S A link to the translation of excerpts from A Prolonged Childhood