The Arty Semite

Embezzlement Drama Wins Israel's Top Literary Prize

By Beth Kissileff

The biggest point of contention with this year’s Sapir Prize, Israel’s equivalent to the Booker, was who the judges were and how they came to their shortlist of five nominees. But controversy should not take away from the achievement of winner Noa Yedlin for her “Ba’alat Bayit” or “House Arrest,” her second novel. Yedlin works as a journalist and is currently the deputy editor of the weekend magazine of the Ma’ariv newspaper; her first book was a collection of her columns “You ask, God replies” (2005), and her second a novel, “Track Changes” (2010). As winner, Yedlin will receive a 150,000 NIS prize, translation of her novel into Arabic and into another language of her choice.

The novel is about a family from the elite Ashkenazi echelons of Jerusalem society and their house on Al-harizi Street in Rehavia, a prestigious and older neighborhood, quiet and leafy. The Fogel’s 40-year-old son, Asa Fogel, a divorced and unemployed PhD in New Age culture from a critical perspective, lives there and pays rent to his mother, Elisheva. She is a professor and the head of a prosperous center for peace studies. She is also accused of embezzling 3.4 million shekels from the research institute. The Fogel siblings, a real estate agent and a psychiatrist who is developing a reality TV show to give psychiatric advice to adolescents, fall out on different sides of the question about the guilt of their mother. Asa, is most entangled — his ex-wife had an affair with the journalist who first broke the embezzlement story and he does not know whether his mother is using him as a cover for her own dealings or not.

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2013 National Jewish Book Award Winners Named

By Forward Staff

The National Jewish Book Council has announced the winners of the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards.

The Award, now in its 63rd year, is given in 17 categories including fiction, history, poetry, scholarship and the Everett Family Foundation Award for Jewish Book of the Year.

Honorees this year include Yossi Klein Halevi for “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation”; Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman for “FDR and the Jews”; Ari Shavit for “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” and Amos Oz for “Between Friends.”

The prizes will be awarded March 5 at a ceremony at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. Read a complete list of winners and finalists here, and an excerpt from ‘Like Dreamers’ in the Forward, here.

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Klezmatics Given Lifetime Achievement Award at YIVO

By Jon Kalish

In the mid 1980s several key figures in the klezmer revival movement had day jobs at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. So, perhaps it was only fitting that The Klezmatics were given a lifetime achievement award at YIVO’s Manhattan headquarters November 19. After cocktails and dinner at the Center for Jewish History’s atrium on West 16th Street, the band performed a lively set in an auditorium after being introduced by Jeffrey Shandler, chair of the Jewish Studies department at Rutgers University.

Courtesy of YIVO

Shandler, a former YIVO staffer, told the crowd that the band “offers all of us a provocative model of how to respond to the destruction of Europe’s Yiddish culture during World War II, not to accept its devastation, not simply to preserve its fragments, but to respond to destruction with creativity. And to do so brazenly, smartly and playfully.”

After noting that The Klezmatics have collaborated with such cultural luminaries as Itzhak Perlman, Chava Alberstein, Theodore Bikel, Tony Kushner, Neil Sedaka and John Zorn, Shandler said, “I mean Neil Sedaka and John Zorn alone is remarkable.”

Lorin Sklamberg, who has worked on and off at YIVO since 1987 as assistant to the assistant director, Yiddish typesetter, graphic designer and assistant director of KlezKamp, currently works there part-time as a sound archivist. Asked to comment on how klezmer music has evolved over the years, Sklamberg told The Arty Semite: “The music had been cut off for 20 years. People weren’t passing the music on in the United States past the late 1950s. So, to be able to take up that mantle was a challenge and our great joy.”

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Jewish Group Wins Canadian Music Award

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Toronto-based Jewish world music group Jaffa Road keeps racking up honors. Most recently, the band was named World Group of the Year at the 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards, which took place over the weekend in Calgary.

Courtesy Jaffa Road

Jaffa Road’s second album, “Where the Light Gets In” (2012) was nominated for a JUNO Award this year. The group’s debut album, “Sunplace,” also scored a JUNO nomination, and the group has won Best World Music Artist at the Toronto Independent Music Awards.

“Jaffa Road blends Jewish, jazz, Indian and Arabic music with electronica and dub. The result is fantastic,” said CBC Radio One.

“I am thrilled, Jaffa Road just won WORLD MUSIC GROUP OF THE YEAR, at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA). There is so much great roots music at the CFMAs and in Canada in general. It is such an honor to even be nominated, so glad to get this acknowledgement,” posted Jaffa Road member Aaron Lightstone, who plays guitars, ud, saz, synthesizers, on Facebook Sunday night.

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Jewish Book Council Names Sami Rohr Prize Finalists

By Forward Staff

The Jewish Book Council has named the five finalists of this year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the Forward has learned. Carolyn Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council, told the Forward that the five finalists are Sarah Bunin Benor for “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism”; Matti Friedman for “The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books”; Nina S. Spiegel for “Embodying Hebrew Culture: Aesthetics, Athletics, and Dance in the Jewish Community of Mandate Palestine”; Eliyahu Stern for “The Genius: Elija of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism” and Marni Davis for “Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition.”

The $100,000 prize, the largest of its kind in the world, will be given in 2014. Last year the award was given to Francesca Segal for her novel “The Innocents” and two years ago was given to Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman for “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle To Save Soviet Jewry.” Administered by the Jewish Book Council, The Rohr Prize recognizes emerging writers who examine the Jewish experience. It is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years.

The award also includes a $25,000 runner-up, who will receive the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Choice Award. All finalists become members in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute, which conducts annual gatherings of all winners, finalists, judges and advisors.

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Philip Levine Wins $100k Prize

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Former United States poet laureate Philip Levine has been awarded the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement. The award, which comes with a $100,000 prize, is given annually for “outstanding and proven mastery of the art of poetry.”

Levine was 83 when he was named poet laureate in 2011. Although he now lives in Fresno California and lived for some time in New York, he is most closely associated with the working class experience of his native Detroit. Levine began writing poetry during breaks between shifts as an autoworker, and his first collection, “On The Edge,” was published in 1963. “From the beginning of his career he has considered the assumptions of the American ruling class — especially those they have successfully transmitted to the rest of the country — with a degree of skepticism,” wrote Dan Friedman about him in the Forward.

Levine is known for his poetry collections, including, “What Work Is,” which won the 1991 National Book Award and “The Simple Truth,” which won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. His “News of the World” was published in 2009.

“I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own,” Levine wrote about his motivation for becoming a poet. “I thought too that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life—or at least the part my work played in it—I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life.”

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Jewish Novel Included on Man Booker Longlist

By Reuters

Life in London’s Jewish community and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, billionaires in China and hard times in Ireland all feature in the novels vying for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

The longlist for the prize, one of the English language’s top fiction awards, names 13 writers from seven countries.

“This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject,” said Robert Macfarlane, a writer and Cambridge University academic who chairs the panel of five judges.

“These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000 and from Shanghai to Hendon,” he said in a statement announcing the list.

Selected from 151 titles, it includes authors from Britain, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Ireland.

Two authors, Jim Crace with “Harvest” and Colm Toibin with “The Testament of Mary,” have appeared on the award’s shortlist previously.

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'Kinky Boots' Wins Six Tonys

By Chris Michaud (Reuters)

Getty Images
Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein attend the 2013 Tony Awards.

“Kinky Boots” won six Tony awards on Sunday including the top award of best musical and a prize for its composer, pop queen Cyndi Lauper, as Broadway presented its top honors.

Lauper won best score for her first Broadway musical, “Kinky Boots,” an adaptation of a British film about a struggling shoe factory reinventing itself by making boots for drag queens.

The hit musical topped the nominations with 13 and also won best actor in a musical for Billy Porter, best choreography, orchestrations and sound design.

A tearful Lauper said “I can’t say I wasn’t practicing in front of the shower curtain for the past couple of days,” and went on to “thank Broadway, for welcoming me.”

Porter, who as the strong, proud drag queen is at the show’s heart, said he first watched the Tony telecast at home at age 11, and recalled a performance from the musical “Dreamgirls” by saying “That moment has changed my life.”

The best play Tony was won by “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” a crowd-pleasing comic riff on Anton Chekhov’s work by veteran playwright Christopher Durang that stars Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce.

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Mel Brooks Honored for Lifetime of Funny

By Ezra Glinter

Mel Brooks is already a member of the EGOT club, having received Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards, but the comedy legend has more prizes coming.

Getty Images

Brooks is scheduled to receive the American Film Institute’s 41st Lifetime Achievement Award tonight, an honor widely considered to be the industry’s most important career-spanning recognition. The award will be presented to Brooks by Martin Scorsese at a ceremony in Los Angeles and will be televised June 15 on TMT.

According to the AFI, the award is given to someone “whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.” Previous recipients of the award include Jimmy Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Poitier, Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand.

Asked about the honor by Variety, Brooks said:

I’ve always been recognized as a comedy guy, either as a performer or a comedy writer, but never have I been saluted as a filmmaker. I thought I was finished with AFI because six or seven months ago they gave me a doctorate at a graduation ceremony. I was bitterly disappointed. I was wearing a stethoscope and came to the realization that I wasn’t actually a doctor.

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Howard Jacobson Wins a Pig

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Author Howard Jacobson tried to be discreet about what he had eaten for breakfast while being interviewed about winning the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction. He’d had bacon and eggs, and the prize was a 10-year-old kunekune sow named Zoo Time, after Jacobson’s winning novel about a writer distracted from writing.

This was not the first time that the Man Booker-winning British writer has been awarded a Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse pig. He received his first one in 2000, and it was named Mighty Walzer, after his winning book that year. Jacobson admitted to having never gone back to visit Mighty Walzer, but promised to develop a closer relationship with Zoo Time.

The Wodehouse prize, which “captures the comic spirit of the Jeeves creator,” was presented to Jacobson at the Telegraph Hay Festival, a six-day arts and literature festival, considered to be Britain’s foremost event of its kind.

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Pole Dancers and Checkout Clerks Win at DocAviv

By Renee Ghert-Zand

It’s hard not to notice that many of the prizewinners at the 2013 Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival focus on women, be they pole dancers, supermarket cashiers or pioneers in pre-state Israel. Not all of DocAviv’s nods went to films about females, but the trend is hard to ignore.

Isri halpern

The Best Israeli Film Award went to “Pole, Dancer and a Movie,” a film by Isri Halpern about Neta Lee Levy, the founder of Israel’s first pole dancing studio. Special Jury Mention went to “Super Women,” a documentary by Yael Kipper and Ronen Zaretsky chronicling the lives of five women who all work the same shift at an Israeli supermarket. Avigail Sperber won the Best Cinematography Award for the film.

“Women/Pioneers,” a film about the young women who came to the Land of Israel to be pioneers and develop a model for “the new woman,” received the Best Research Award. “Handa Handa 4” got a Special Jury Mention for the story it tells about a young couple of Bukharan descent that refuse to follow the conventional marriage traditions of their community.

The Best Editing Award went not to a film about women, but rather to one about children. “Dancing in Jaffa,” a film by Hilla Medalia that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows ballroom dancing expert Pierre Dulaine as he returns to his native Jaffa to implement a social development program with Palestinian and Jewish children similar to the ones he has run in New York and other North American cities.

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'Exorcist' Director To Be Honored in Venice

By Reuters

Getty Images

William Friedkin, the U.S. film director who scared up a fright with “The Exorcist” and set pulses racing with thriller “The French Connection” in the 1970s, will get a lifetime achievement award from the Venice Film Festival, organizers said on Thursday.

Friedkin, 77, will also present a restored version of his initially poorly received but now acclaimed 1977 film “Sorcerer” at the August 28-September 7 festival in the Italian city.

Venice film festival director Alberto Barbera said that Friedkin had made major contributions to U.S. cinema “the revolutionary impact of which has not always been recognized.”

“Friedkin exploded the rules of documentary filmmaking in several works for television that were seminal for their dry, harsh and unpredictable point of view, and later revolutionized the popular genres of the crime film and the horror film, basically inventing the modern blockbuster with ‘The French Connection’,” Barbera said in a statement.

“The French Connection,” a drug smuggling drama starring Gene Hackman, won five Oscars in 1972 including Best Picture and Best Director.

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Jewish Films Win German Oscars

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Two Jewish-themed films fared well at the 2013 German Film Awards (known as the Lolas) April 26 in Berlin.

“Hannah Arendt,” famed German director Margarethe von Tratta’s film focusing on four years (1960-1964) in the political theorist’s life, won the Silver Lola for best film. The film deals with the period during which Arendt, a German-Jewish refugee, went to Jerusalem to cover Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann’s trial for The New Yorker. Her articles were followed in 1963 by the controversial book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.”

The film has enjoyed positive reviews for von Tratta’s direction, and especially for German actress Barbara Sukowa’s portrayal of Arendt, which won her the Lola for best actress.

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Ephron and Greenberg Pick Up Tony Nominations

By Ezra Glinter

It’s that time of year again.

Joan Marcus
Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron’s ‘Lucky Guy.’

Tony Award nominations were announced this morning, with Best Play nods going to “The Assembled Parties” by Richard Greenberg, and “Lucky Guy,” the last play by the late Nora Ephron.

Although Greenberg’s play is set on Christmas Day — two Christmas Days, actually — it’s about the Bascovs, a well-to-do Jewish family living on Central Park West. (Read our interview with “The Assembled Parties” star Jessica Hecht here.) Judith Light also received a nomination for Best Actress in a Featured Role for her performance as the neurotic sister Faye, and Santo Loquasto got a nod for Best Scenic Design.

Ephron’s “Lucky Guy,” starring Tom Hanks in his Broadway debut, also picked up a Best Play nomination, along with nods for Best Actor (that would be Hanks) and a raft of other nominations. Hanks plays Mike McAlary, the Daily News journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for his reporting on the use of torture by the NYPD.

Other nominations include “The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang for Best Play, and Nathan Lane for Best Actor in “The Nance.”

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Leonard Cohen Wins Two Junos

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Music legend Leonard Cohen was a double winner at this past weekend’s JUNO Awards held in Regina, Saskatchewan. The JUNOs, presented by The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, are the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys.

Getty Images

Cohen was named Artist of the Year, and he also received the JUNO Award for Songwriter of the Year for three songs on his “Old Ideas” album. Cohen was not in attendance at the various JUNO ceremonies and galas to personally receive the honors.

While newcomer Carly Rae Jepsen bested Cohen by winning three awards, the 78-year-old icon beat out both the “Call Me Maybe” singer and pop star Justin Bieber for Artist of the Year. Cohen has now won five JUNOs over the course of his career.

Jewish performers Drake, Adam Cohen (Leonard Cohen’s son), and Toronto group Jaffa Road were among the JUNO nominees this year.

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Francesca Segal Wins $100K Rohr Prize

By Ezra Glinter

Francesca Segal has won the 2013 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her novel “The Innocents,” the Jewish Book Council announced today.

The award, worth $100,000, is one of the largest literary prizes in the world and is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years. This year’s runner-up, who receives $25,000, is Ben Lerner for his novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station.” Other finalists included Shani Boianjiu for “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid,” Stuart Nadler for “The Book of Life,” and Asaf Schurr for “Motti.”

Inspired by Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence,” Segal’s book examines the upper-class Jewish community of North West London. The novel is being adapted into a TV show in the U.K. by Carnival Films, the company that produces “Downton Abbey.”

Founded in 2006, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature “honors the contribution of contemporary writers in the exploration and transmission of Jewish values and is intended to encourage and promote outstanding writing of Jewish interest in the future.” Last year Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman was awarded the prize for his book, “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle To Save Soviet Jewry.”

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Jewish Films Win German Oscars

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Two Jewish-themed films fared well at the 2013 German Film Awards, known as the Lolas were handed out April 26 in Berlin.

“Hannah Arendt,” famed German director Margarethe von Tratta’s film focusing on four years (1960-1964) in the political theorist’s life, won the Silver Lola for best film. The film deals with the period during which Arendt, a German-Jewish refugee, went to Jerusalem to cover Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann’s trial for The New Yorker. Her articles were followed by the highly controversial “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” in 1963.

The film has enjoyed positive reviews for von Tratta’s direction, and especially for German actress Barbara Sukowa’s portrayal of Arendt, which won her the Lola for best actress.

The Lola for the best film for youth went to “Kaddish for a Friend,” a production in German and Arabic about a 14-year-old boy named Ali who moves from a Palestinian refugee camp to Berlin. There, he tries to gain the acceptance of the local teens by breaking into the apartment of an elderly Russian Jewish war veteran. Ali gets into serious trouble when the other youths vandalize the apartment and Ali gets reported to the police. The only way he can avoid prosecution and deportation is to seek the forgiveness of the Jewish man, his supposed enemy.

Watch the trailer for ‘Kaddish for a Friend’:

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Bob Dylan Inducted Into American Academy

By Forward Staff

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Bob Dylan receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Bob Dylan has become the first rock star to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Because of the multi-disciplinary nature of his work, Dylan will be an honorary inductee, joining such notables as Meryl Streep, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese.

“The board of directors considered the diversity of his work and acknowledged his iconic place in the American culture,” Academy executive director Virginia Dajani told the Associated Press. “Bob Dylan is a multi-talented artist whose work so thoroughly crosses several disciplines that it defies categorization.”

Dylan has also been the recipient of an honorary Pulitzer Prize, in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2012.

The Academy of Arts and Letters, which was founded in 1898 and is based in Manhattan, consists of 250 members in the categories of music, literature and visual arts. It also includes 75 honorary members from abroad and 10 honorary American members. New members are inducted only when one of the existing members dies.

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Shalom Auslander Wins JQ-Wingate Prize

By Liam Hoare

Shalom Auslander was awarded the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize — the United Kingdom’s top prize for Jewish literature — for his debut novel, “Hope: a Tragedy”, at a February 27 event at London’s Jewish Book Week.

FRANCO VOGT

Diana Reich, chair of the JQ-Wingate Prize judging panel, praised Auslander’s work as “bursting with raw talent, shockingly irreverent, [and] studded with comic brilliance and unbearable poignancy.”

Auslander’s novel was selected from a shortlist of six books and a wider field of around 70 works, both fiction and non-fiction. Other nominations included “Scenes from Village Life” by Amos Oz, “Foreign Bodies” by Cynthia Ozick, which had also been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the Man Booker Prize-nominated “Swimming Home” by Deborah Levy.

In a pre-recorded acceptance speech shown in his absence, after expressing surprise that neither Hilary Mantel nor Junot Diaz had beaten him to it, “since they seem to win everything,” Auslander said that he was “conflicted about the award” since he was raised to believe that “every time things went well, you knew things were going to go very poorly right away afterward.”

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Sami Rohr Prize Finalists Announced

By Forward Staff

The Jewish Book Council has announced the finalists for this year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The $100,000 prize is one of the largest literary awards in the world and recognizes emerging writers who examine the Jewish experience. It is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years.

This year’s fiction finalists include Shani Boianjiu for “The People Of Forever Are Not Afraid”; Ben Lerner for “Leaving Atocha Station”; Stuart Nadler for “The Book of Life”; Asaf Schurr for “Motti” (translated by Todd Hasak Lowy) and Francesca Segal for “The Innocents.” The winner will be announced in April and will be celebrated at a gala in New York City at the end of May.

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