“I always wanted to write a history of Jerusalem,” said Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of “Jerusalem: The Biography” (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2011), which received the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year award at the Jewish Book Council’s 61st National Book Awards Ceremony, on March 14. Held at Manhattan’s Center for Jewish History, the event was co-hosted by writers Samuel Freedman and Abigail Pogrebin. Explaining why he wrote the book, Montefiore, in a mellifluous British accent, cited Disraeli: “When I want to read a book, I write one!” Expounding on the Jerusalem of legend, fiction and reality, Montefiore said: “Pilgrims expect to find it an idyllic city…. There are no white angels….” The JBC described the book as “even handed. Its purpose is to neither inflame nor defend, but rather to enrich… any reader of any background — Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other.”
Montefiore said, “In 1918, the police chief of Jerusalem was a Major [Geoffrey Sebag] Montefiore. He’d go to brothels and pull out Australian soldiers. In a letter to General [1st Viscount Edmund] Allenby, dated January 5, 1918, Montefiore wrote: ‘Jerusalem quiet. V.D. rampant.’”
Edith Everett, the foundation’s co-founder and president, said: “If we were creating a list of names and individuals who were most associated with Jerusalem, the name Montefiore would be close to the top. So it is no surprise that the [Everett] award was presented to Simon Sebag Montefiore — a great-great-nephew of one of Jerusalem’s greatest and earliest benefactors.” She continued, “The real conditions for peace are not just the details of which Herodian cistern will be Palestinian or Israeli, but the heartfelt intangibles of mutual trust and respect…. I passionately hope that it might encourage each side to recognize and respect the ancient heritage of the other.”
Council President Lawrence Krule described the award ceremony as “the longest-running, most prestigious book award of its kind in North America,” and praised the JBC’s director, Carolyn Starman Hessel, as “the council’s most exciting dynamic catalyst.” Ned Beauman accepted the foundation’s Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction for “Boxer Beetle” (Bloomsbury USA, 2011). In charming Londonese he described “growing up Jewish in [England’s] Hampstead, where I was really secular, really assimilated. I didn’t know what treyf means. No one ever said ‘Mazel tov’ to me until today.” The program notes described his book as “fully realized, gemlike, brilliant, hysterically funny, sophisticated…. Given that he is only 26, who knows where Ned Beauman will be able to go from here.”
“We’re going to start a program of posthumous brises in reaction to the Mormons’ retroactive baptismal campaign,” Freedman joked as he introduced Aaron Jasinski, illustrator of Eric. A Kimmel’s “The Golem’s Latkes” (Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, 2011), an adaptation by of the classic story of the Prague Golem. The book won the Louis Posner Memorial Award. Jasinski revealed that he had been inspired by Chaim Potok’s “My Name Is Asher Lev,” and that he “identified with the [book’s] character as a [guide] to my own identity.”
Gerald Steinacher, an assistant professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, took home the National Jewish Book Award for Holocaust Studies for his latest book, “Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice” (Oxford University Press, 2011). According to the program notes, Steinacher, an Austrian, “scoured archival material across several countries to examine the escape routes and network of assistance that enabled war criminals to flee Germany and Eastern Europe and establish new lives in Argentina and other nations.” At the private dinner that preceded the ceremony, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, announced the establishment of the Myra H. Kraft Memorial Award in Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice.
“For me, this is a ‘Hello, Dolly!’ moment: You are back where you belong,” said Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, at Lincoln Center Institute’s annual gala. The event was held on March 7at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Honored were two-term former Florida governor Jeb Bush and his wife, Columba Bush. “In no place, in no state has anyone done more to transform education as did Jeb Bush in Florida,” said Klein, now executive vice president of News Corporation. “Look at the results he has gotten, particularly for children of color… which has been the most difficult group [in which] to see advancements… .Let us educate our kids, and let’s put aside all politics…. Let’s stop making excuses as to where someone grew up. In America it is not where you come from, but where you are going,” said Klein, who also praised New York City’s former mayor Ed Koch, a guest that evening. Koch, he said, “put principle above politics.”
Ann Unterberg, chair of the Lincoln Center Institute, gave an overview of LCI, which for the past 36 years has brought the arts to the public schools — arts that, she noted, are now “embedded in the school curriculum. Yes, you can teach creativity. Yes, you can keep students in school!” She also explained that, as part of its efforts to reach underserved children, LCI has joined New Visions for Public Schools to develop 18 charter schools in the next few years, with the first two in the Bronx.
“Joel [Klein] is a brother from another mother,” Bush joked. “Arts in education is one of the tools… by which we increase the chance for students to learn. I am not a big arts guy.” Recalling past visits to Europe, Bush observed Americans being perceived as “naively optimistic.” Now, he said, “in Europe, even in their pessimistic times, they don’t think we are naively optimistic anymore…. One way to lift our spirits is by allowing the arts to come into our lives.”
Lincoln Center’s president, Reynold Levy, offered welcoming remarks, and gala chair Kathleen Shanahan presented the awards. Also honored was [Stanley Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation and IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs. The evening concluded with Broadway star Kelli O’Hara’s stunning performance of such musical hits as Stephen Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park With George” and “This Was Nearly Mine” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific.”