Nava Semel (1954 – 2017) was born in Jaffa in to Romanian Holocaust survivors, Mimi (Margalit) and Yitzhak Artzi, né Hertzig. Her father was a member of the Romanian Zionist Youth Movement who became involved in a first-of-its kind rescue attempt in Transnistria. The family emigrated to Israel in 1947 but was stopped en route by the British, who sent them to a detention camp in Cyprus. Upon their arrival in Israel, Yitzhak Artzi served as deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, a post he would hold for twenty years, after which he was elected to the Knesset as a representative of the Independent Liberal party. Semel’s brother, Shlomo Artzi, is regarded as one of Israel’s most iconic balladeers.
Semel attended Tel Aviv’s Gymnasia Herzliya, then served in the army as a reporter for the IDF radio station. She worked for Israel Television and the fledgling Beit Hatfutzot, while completing a degree in art history at Tel Aviv University. In 1976 she married Noam Semel, a theatrical producer who went on to become theatrical director of Tel Aviv’s iconic Cameri Theatre. Through 1988 she worked as a book reviewer, film critic and journalist. That year, she left to the US with her husband, who had been appointed cultural consul to the Israeli Consulate-General in New York.
Semel’s scrapes at the scar tissue of the Holocaust, searching for the effable behind the determined silences in Israeli survivor families. Her SF/F, most particularly the novel And the Rat Laughed (2001), deals with the ostensible inability to confront the unmentionable. This novel was staged by the Cameri Theatre, and is slated to become a major international film. Isra-Isle, published in 2008, is an Alternate History novel that posits the creation of a Jewish homeland in upper New York State. It was published well before Michael Chabon embarked upon his similarly themed in his The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Semel is an SF aficionado, and is unapologetic about what others may see as rummaging behind the cowsheds.
Nava Semel is the recipient of several awards, including the American Jewish Book Prize, the Prime Minister’s Prize under Levi Eshkol, Austria’s Best Radio Broadcast Prize, and Israeli Woman Writer of the Year. She succumbed to cancer in 2017.