Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Celebrate 2020 Winners in Online Ceremony Oct. 25

Oct. 22, 2020

The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards is honouring nine outstanding books for 2020.

Now in its sixth year, the Awards recognize and reward the finest Canadian writing on Jewish themes and subjects.

“Even during this year of isolation, choosing only nine Award winners from the depth and breadth and quality of the submissions was a challenge,” said jury chair Edward Trapunski.

Winners have been declared in the following categories: Fiction, biography, Jewish thought and culture, poetry, history, books for children and youth, Yiddish, scholarship, and Holocaust.

The awards ceremony will be presented on the Canadian Jewish Literary Awards and the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies YouTube channels on Oct. 25, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. It will be available for later viewing on these channels.

The Honorees

Fiction:

Through Shadows Slow by Abraham Boyarsky (8th House Publishing) is a love story about memory and forgiveness. Daniel, a Holocaust refugee, is diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a renowned sanatorium in the Laurentian mountains. He meets and falls in love with a more assimilated woman who grew up in Canada. He marries her but he is haunted by doubts about her fidelity because of her worldly nature. In the twilight of his life, he finds salvation and redemption on the Israeli fortress at Masada.

Biography:

Mahler’s Forgotten Conductor: Heinz Unger and His Search for Jewish Meaning, 1895–1965 by Hernan Tesler-Mabé (University of Toronto Press). The Berlin-born orchestral conductor Heinz Unger devoted his life to the music of Gustav Mahler. In 1948, Unger settled in Canada and was celebrated for his Mahler interpretations with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Promenade Symphony Orchestra and, most significantly, the CBC Symphony Orchestra. The book explores the way a German Jewish musician understood and expressed his dual identity by way of his allegiance to music and how Jewish cultural values from Europe manifested themselves in Canada.

Jewish Thought and Culture:

Waste Not: A Jewish Environmental Ethic by Tanhum Yoreh (SUNY Press). The Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction is an ecological ethical principle by contemporary Jewish environmentalists. Waste Not is an intellectual history of this concept, offering a detailed and studious analysis of the Jewish prohibition against wastefulness and destruction (bal tashhit), blending close readings from traditional texts, beginning with the Bible, and moving through rabbinic, medieval, and contemporary Jewish environmentalist commentaries. Tanhum Yoreh, Assistant Professor in the School of Environment at the University of Toronto, draws on the study of religion, ethics, and ecological thinking for a timely meditation on a subject deserving the world’s attention. The connection between contemporary environmental thought and Jewish principles creates a foundation for an environmental ethic for today.

Poetry:

Swoon by Elana Wolff (Guernica Editions). This collection of poems explores a variety of subjects but returns again and again to our longing for transcendence. Informed by Jewish texts and contexts, with a sure-handed control of language and image, the poems are passionate but mature, precise and curious, willing to risk everything for a chance to slip behind the curtain of the familiar to get a glimpse at the divine. The poems in Swoon are philosophical considerations, meditations on the sacred and profane with a subtle understanding of one’s own connection to the world. It is a subtle, sensual book of observances pleasing to the ear.

History:

Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader by Derek Penslar (Yale University Press). This work by an eminent Canadian-American historian masterfully blends a richly textured biography about the father of Zionism with an insightful analysis of the ways that Herzl fits into and struggled with both European social and intellectual currents and the Jewish publics with whom he was both connected and disconnected. Prof. Penslar has written an accessible, deeply thoughtful, carefully crafted, and thoroughly enjoyable book about one of the giants of modern Jewish history.

Children and Youth:

A Boy is Not a Bird by Edeet Ravel (Groundwood Books) is a fictionalized story based on what the author’s fifth grade teacher, Mr. Halpern, used to tell her class about his childhood in Soviet occupied Zastavna, Romania. The compelling story recounts the events that marked the life of 11-year-old Natt Silver, his family, friends and neighbours, just before and during their deportation to Siberia in 1941. Natt is a sweet kid who just wants to belong and yet he must endure the horror of living under the influence of Stalin and Hitler. While the book is recommended for readers age 9 and up, it is a memoir a reader of any age could enjoy.

Yiddish:

How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish, edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert (Restless Books), considers the complex encounter between Yiddish and America through several different lenses. Essays, memoirs, songs, letters, poems, recipes, cartoons, and interviews represent a diverse selection of perspectives on Yiddish language and culture. The book features work by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Grade, Art Spiegelman, and many other lesser known cultural figures. It places them in a dynamic conversation around the interaction between Yiddish and American. The anthology also refreshingly expands the definition of “America” to include voices from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, and Canada, reflecting the unbounded history of modern Yiddish. Josh Lambert’s roots are in Canada. Arriving at a moment when Yiddish has entered a new phase in its long history, this book celebrates the complicated, tense, and delightful ways languages and cultures transform one another.

Scholarship:

Athens and Jerusalem: God, Humans, and Nature by David Novak (University of Toronto Press). This book by a distinguished professor of religion and philosophy at the University of Toronto examines the intersection of Greek philosophy and Jewish theology. The subject has long been controversial because of the conflict between monotheism on one side and pluralism on the other. But the Greek philosophers and the Jewish Talmudists were contemporaneous if not contemporary and Athens and Jerusalem addresses how the influences must have spread through the region. As a theologian, ethicist, and rabbi, David Novak is well equipped to expound on the subject. He has written 16 books and hundreds of articles about how Jewish theology and Greek philosophy engage and he could have distilled existing knowledge. But academics and scholars will find that Athens and Jerusalem presents fresh ideas and insights.

Holocaust:

Le Temps des orphelins by Laurent Sagalovitsch (Buchet/Chastel). A young American rabbi, Daniel Shapiro, joins the Allied forces in April 1945 to liberate Europe. In Germany, he is one of the first to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp and experience the horror there. His descent into hell would have been without return if he had not met the gaze of a five-year-old child who is waiting for someone to help him find his parents. The novel, in French, by Vancouver-based author, Laurent Sagalovitsch, depicts with poignancy the atrocity of the camps and the disbelief of those who were the first to discover them. The child with oversized eyes who, without a word, convinces Daniel that life is stronger than horror. Towards the end of his life, Holocaust chronicler Elie Wiesel said: “From now on, art and literature will be the true way to express the Holocaust.” This moving novel based on fact offers a meaningful path to understanding the Holocaust.

The Canadian Jewish Literary Awards Jury for 2020:

Edward Trapunski: Chair, author of three books and winner of an ACTRA Award as best writer.

Rona Arato: Award-winning children’s book writer and author of 15 books.

Miriam Borden: Doctoral student in Yiddish at the University of Toronto and researcher of twentieth century Jewish Torontonian culture in the Canadian Yiddish press. She has curated exhibitions about Yiddish language and culture at the Robarts Library and the Canadian Language Museum.

Alain Goldschläger: Director of the Holocaust Literature Research Institute and Professor of French at Western University, and former Chair of the National Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.

David Koffman: J. Richard Shiff Chair for the Study of Canadian Jewry at the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York University.

Michael Posner: Award-winning author and playwright and former reporter for the Globe and Mail.

Adam Sol: Author of four books of poetry and one book of essays, How a Poem Moves. He teaches at Victoria College, University of Toronto.

For more information, visit www.cjlawards.ca.

Website Marks Decade of Publishing Jewish Fiction

Sept. 11, 2020 – By RUTH SCHWEITZER

The online Jewish literary journal Jewish Fiction.net is marking a milestone at an auspicious time: It celebrates its 10th anniversary this Rosh Hashanah.

The website is the only English-language journal in the world, either print or online, devoted exclusively to publishing Jewish fiction.

Founded and edited in Toronto by the award-winning author Nora Gold, the site has published more than 400 works of fiction, both short stories and excerpts from novels, over the past decade.

Nora Gold
Nora Gold

The current issue includes 16 contributions, among them five translations from Hebrew and one from Hungarian. There’s also an excerpt from Nessa Rapopart’s latest novel, Evening, which unfolds while the protagonist, Eve, and her family sit shivah for her sister.

Also in the current issue is “The House of Cards,” a comic story by Leonid Newhouse about a young Jewish couple sharing a room in a former palazzo in Leningrad at the end of 1940s.

A crisis created by the advent of digital publishing a decade ago gave Gold the impetus to launch Jewish Fiction.Net. At the time, she recalled, many writers told her, “look, I have a novel in my drawer and the publishers have been telling me it’s really good, but hold on to it for 10 years, until the digital crisis is over.”

Jewish fiction, Gold noted, is seen as a niche market by publishers, who, when facing difficult times, tend to avoid anything seen as niche.

Gold said she’s been lucky as a writer to find publishers for her three books. Her collection of short stories, Marrow and Other Stories, won a Canadian Jewish Book Award, and one of her two novels, Fields of Exile, won a Canadian Jewish Literary Award.

Concerned that some amazing Jewish-themed fiction would be lost during the digital crisis, Gold got into publishing. Her professional background, in addition to being a writer, is in social work. “What happens for someone like me is, I thought in this case there’s a need, (so) I’ll fill the need,” she said.

With the help of an advisory council, she launched the Toronto-based journal, which publishes Jewish fiction from around the world and has readers in 140 countries.

Contributors have included such eminent authors as Elie Wiesel, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua, Savyon Liebrecht, and Aharon Megged, and some well-known Canadians, like George Jonas, Morley Torgov, and Chava Rosenfarb.

A rigorous editorial process ensures that the quality of the writing, whether by famous or lesser-known authors, remains high. Submissions are blind-reviewed by an editorial team of three, located in Toronto, Houston and Jerusalem. “I was able to get people with very strong backgrounds in literature, Judaism and/or Jewish literature,” Gold said.

Contributors are unpaid, and fewer than one out of 20 submissions is published, she said.

In the early days of the journal and today, Gold continues to be concerned about the divisiveness, hostility and polarization within the Jewish community. An activist and co-founder of the New Israel Fund of Canada, Canadian Friends of Givat Haviva, and JSpaceCanada, Gold created the journal with the hope that it would build bridges.

“There would be a place where writers and readers of all different perspectives and backgrounds could meet and be exposed to each other, because fiction is very powerful,” she said. “When you read fiction, your defences drop and you enter the inner world of the other person. And it changes you. It broadens the way you think about things.”

She also tries to build a bridge between Israel and the Diaspora by publishing Israeli writers in translation.

“The younger generation in the Diaspora is so estranged from Israel,” she said, adding she hopes exposure to fiction translated from Hebrew might give young people pause or some opening to experience Israel.

Gold decided to forgo a paywall for the site and make the stories accessible. While she was developing the idea for the journal, she remembers passing a group of Jewish kids at a bus stop near Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto.

“I just had this whole fantasy about high school kids being able to read great works of fiction on the bus on the way home instead of playing computer games,” she said.

“I didn’t want even to be charging $5 per issue because there are people for whom that’s a barrier, either economic or psychological. I just wanted anyone to be able to read this journal. And not only Jews, of course. We have lots of non-Jewish readers.”