JUNE 10: Yona Wallach (1944-1989)


Yona Wallach was a bisexual poet and rock star who was a crucial
member of the wild, Bohemian group of Tel Aviv poets that sought to make sense
of life, love, and art in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, on what would
have been her 73rd birthday we celebrate Yona’s life and work!

Yona’s name in Hebrew is יונה וולך and she has been characterized as one of the “divas” of Hebrew poetry (x). ‎‎ 

Born on June 10, 1944, Yona grew up in Kiryat Ono, Israel. Her
father was one of the founding members of the town of Kiryat Ono and although
his position offered their family a level of prestige in the community, tragedy
struck when her father was killed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Introduced
to grief and death early on in life, her writing would later tackle such dark
themes while also combining them with lively themes of love and sexuality.

In 2015, the film Yona was shown at the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema and translated Yona’s life story to the screen in what the writer and director called a “psychological portrait” (x).

Her hometown stood just on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and so
it’s no wonder that when Yona grew older, the artist was attracted to the
sensibilities of the city and left home to be with her fellow artists. By frequently
contributing to the literary journals Akhshav
and Siman Qri’a, Yona found a
community and fell in with the group of poets who had founded the journals. In
1978, she won the Israeli Prime Minister’s Literary Prize for poetry. She was
also known for having local rock bands accompany her during her poetry
readings, for which she wrote most of their lyrics. A recording of
several of these bands, which features Yona performing with them, was created
in 1982. Although her work was celebrated, it also pushed many of the general
public’s buttons. Yona did not censor the realities of her life within her
poetry and often wrote explicitly about drug use and sex with both men and women;
this resulted in her being blacklisted from many literary publications and even
the vice-minister of the Israeli Department of Education called her “an animal
in heat.”

Tragically, Yona died on September 29, 1985 from breast cancer.
She was only 41 years old. In the time she was on the earth, Yona revolutionized Hebrew poetry and was unashamed in the face of a public that had never
before seen the likes of her bisexual, Jewish, mentally ill, artist self.