The Arty Semite

Sami Rohr Finalists Include Forward Editor

By Dan Friedman

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This year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature finalists were announced this morning. Five nonfiction authors were on the shortlist for the biggest prize in Jewish letters ($100,000 for the winner and $25,000 for the runner-up), including Gal Beckerman, the Forward’s own opinion editor. The prize alternates between fiction and nonfiction.

Beckerman’s inclusion was not a huge surprise, since his book — reviewed by Donald Kimelman in the Forward — “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” was awarded the 2010 National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Book of the Year.

The press release, issued by the Jewish Book Council, cites the finalists “in no particular order,” following Beckerman with James Loeffler, author of “The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire” which was released by Yale to little fanfare in the summer of 2010.

Despite beginning with two men, a heartening 40% of the nominees were women — and those were chosen without a hint of tokenism. Abigail Green, author of “Moses Montefiore: Jewish Liberator, Imperial Hero” was reviewed glowingly by the Forverts, and the Rohr panel refers to it, rightly, as a “monumental biography.”

And Ruth Franklin’s growing stature both within and beyond The New Republic, where she is the senior literary critic, has been cemented by this shortlisting for her book “A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction” which Jerome Chanes reviewed when it came out.

A top early tip for the winner, which will be announced on February 15, is Jonathan B. Krasner whose book “The Benderly Boys and American Jewish Education” was an important and well-written book on a topic that is rarely touched. Barry Holtz reviewed it for us and called it “essential preparation for seeing how we came to where we are today.”

These finalists now proceed to interview and the judges will huddle over the next two weeks to bring one of these writers a belated Valentine’s Day present.

Read excerpts from Gal Beckerman’s book here, here and here.


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