“Dear Zealot,” a slim volume published in 2017, is made up of three essays on the theme of fanaticism, which Mr. Oz termed the worst scourge of the 21st century. He described the book as loaded “with the conclusions of a whole life.”
Mr. Oz’s concern about zealotry in Israel and beyond was already pronounced nearly two decades ago. Days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001, he wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times, “Being the victims of Arab and Muslim fundamentalism often blinds us so that we tend to ignore the rise of chauvinistic and religious extremism not only in the domain of Islam but also in various parts of the Christian world, and indeed among the Jewish people.”
While many Israelis blame the Palestinians for the impasse in the peace process, dismissing the Palestinian leadership’s willingness or ability to reach a deal, Mr. Oz held Israeli leadership accountable. And he rejected any notion of a one-state solution, saying he was not ready to live as a minority in what would inevitably become an Arab country.
In addition, Mr. Oz wanted the character of Israel to be defined by humanistic Jewish culture, not only by Jewish religion and nationality.
He was born Amos Klausner in Jerusalem on May 4, 1939, and his early years were spent in an atmosphere that was both scholarly and militant. His father, Yehuda Arieh Klausner, a librarian, and his mother, Fania Mussman, had immigrated from Eastern Europe. They met in Jerusalem. Though polyglots themselves, they insisted that their son speak only Hebrew.
Amos spent his childhood in the city in a suffocating, book-crammed apartment with a steady diet of what he called “blood and fire,” referring to his parents’ belief in the necessity of strength and power to establish and maintain the Jewish state. As a young teenager, two and a half years after his mother’s suicide, he rebelled and moved to Kibbutz Hulda, swapping his urban home for fresh air and a communal life. It was there that he changed his surname to Oz, Hebrew for courage.
He said he “decided to become everything his father was not.”
He completed his secondary education in Hulda and worked in the rolling farmland between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The hardy, pioneering characters of the Socialist kibbutz movement would later inhabit some of his novels.