Ayelet Tsabari, author of “The Best Place On Earth,” is the winner of the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Tsabari takes home $100,000 for winning the prize, which was announced Monday.
The collection of short stories explores Israeli history through the eyes of Mizrahi characters.
“I grew up not seeing myself and my family in literature, so writing “The Best Place on Earth” was a way to create the characters that were missing from my childhood stories,” Tsabari said in a statement issued by the Rohr Prize. “By portraying characters of Mizrahi background I was hoping to complicate readers’ perceptions of Israel and Jewishness, and to expand and broaden their ideas of what a Jewish story and Jewish experience can be.”
The runner-up was South African Kenneth Bonert, author of “The Lion Seeker,” which is an epic tale of Jewish Johannesburg. He receives a prize of $25,000.
The other three finalists share an engagement with the Russian-Jewish experience.
Yelena Akhtiorskaya was nominated for her novel “Panic in a Suitcase,” which depicts struggles a family of Ukrainian emigres as they adjust to life in the United States.
Molly Antopol was honored for “The UnAmericans,” a collection of short stories set in Tel Aviv, Prague and the Ukraine that feature Israeli and Russian characters. Antopol, 36, was also featured in the Forward 50 in 2014.
Forward contributor and author Boris Fishman was also among the finalists. His novel A Replacement Life humorously explores the world of aging Russian Jewish immigrants and their grandchildren in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
The Rohr Prize, which has been given annually since 2007, considers works of fiction and nonfiction in alternating years. It was created by the late businessman and philanthropist Sami Rohr to recognize emerging writers who articulate the Jewish experience as determined by a specific work, as well as the author’s potential to make significant ongoing contributions to Jewish literature.
Matti Friedman, author of “The Aleppo Codex,” won the prize last year.
This year, for the first time, the winners and finalists will be celebrated at a public program, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council together with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, on May 6.