Shraga Gafni, a prolific Israeli children’s author whose work was beloved by children in previous decades but whose nationalist political agenda has been a subject of much criticism, died Jan. 19 at 85.
Under a variety of pen names, including Amos Carmeli and On Sarig, Gafni created such iconic Israeli youth fiction series as Dani Din: The Invisible Boy, The Young Detectives, and The Sailors.
Israeli science fiction scholar Eli Eshed wrote that the Dani Din series is “a part of the collective memory of most Israelis in the same way as Superman is for Americans.”
London-based Israeli science fiction author Lavie Tidhar, closed a lengthy piece about Gafni with this:
He was a hack; his books were politically dubious, hastily written and lacked any pretence at literature; and yet, for all that, they have given this writer – and countless other children beside – untold hours of enjoyment. And that is a rare thing indeed.
His famous character, Dani Din, became invisible after taking a potion. He fought Israel’s enemies, including Arab states, Saddam Hussein, and aliens. According to Tidhar, the characters of The Sailors were a “militant group of freedom fighters fighting the British under colonial rule in Palestine; the series ended on something of a cliff-hanger after a botched assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.”
Israeli political journalist Noam Sheizaf, in an essay for the online magazine 972, wrote that “whenever I hear Israeli advocacy groups speaking of incitement, I think of Dani Din,” in an article in which he quoted a letter he received from a parent who had said he loved Dani Din stories when he was young, even as he cited Din’s militaristic adventures.
A total of 29 Dani Din books were published between 1961 and 2001. According to a 2008 interview with Gafni, the author was then working on a Dani Din story in which the invisible boy met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“I’m very concerned. Ahmadinejad is Hitler, he did not want us to be there,” Gafni was quoted as saying: “They believe that God is on their side, (and are) not afraid of the U.S. or anything. Radical Islam’s (goal) is to develop weapons of mass destruction and … to rule the world. (We) need to stop them quickly before it’s a world of darkness.“
Gafni was born in pre-state Palestine in 1926 and was in the underground militant Zionist group Lehi from the age of 14. He joined the newly formed IDF after establishment of the State of Israel and rose through the ranks into the General Staff. He was at one time a member of the small but influential Canaanite movement, which rejected modern Judaism in favor of a return to a presumed Hebrew past.
The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at firstname.lastname@example.org.