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LITERATI IN FULL FORCE AT THE 53RD NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARDSOn December 12, 2003, renowned journalists and authors Ari Goldman and Samuel Freedman hosted the 53rd annual National Jewish Book Awards, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, before a full house of attendees. The award ceremony, commonly referred to as the "Pulitzer Prizes of the Jewish literary world," was held at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.
Recognizing outstanding English-language works of Jewish literature, the Jewish Book Council awarded its top honor--the Everett Family Jewish Book of the Year--to Michael Oren's best-seller Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Oxford University Press). Oren reflected on his youth during his acceptance speech and discussed his hope that he has "somehow helped [his] readers to better understand this profoundly complex and perilous religion, to appreciate Israel's predicaments, and to fathom the factors that influence the Arab World."
Also in the nonfiction category, the Jewish Book Council gave honors to Hertzberg's A Jew in America: My Life and a People's Struggle for Identity (HarperSanFrancisco); the rabbi and author admitted that he has become the "dean of jacket blurb writers" in his later career. Hertzberg discussed his early life, when he lived in a New York City tenement, and helped his father to build and defend a sukkah from the perils of city living.
The top fiction award went to The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart (Riverhead Books). The award for Children's Literature was given to Jewish Holidays All Year Round by Ilene Cooper (Abrams Books). Dara Horn won the first-time author award for In the Image (Norton). Upon winning, she quipped, "I think this may be one of those occasions where I will be the youngest person in the room, but I'm not intimidated. When my book came out, I was invited to speak to teachers at my high school, and after seeing all of my old teachers sitting in front of me and taking notes on what I was going to say, nothing really scares me anymore."
To be eligible for the awards, books must have been published in English between May 1, 2002 and April 30, 2003 and distributed in the United States. The author need not be Jewish nor a U.S. resident. Winners are selected by a panel of judges who are experts in their respective fields.
Everett Family Jewish Book of the Year: Michael Oren for Six Days of War
Nonfiction Award: Arthur Hertzberg for A Jew In America
Fiction Award: Gary Shteyngart for The Russian Debutante's Daughter
Children's Award: Ilene Cooper for Jewish Holidays All Year Round
Anthology: David Biale, ed.for Cultures of the Jews: A New History
Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice: Elliot Dorff for To Do the Right and the Good
Gerrard and Ella Berman Philanthropic Award, History: George Sorin for Irving Howe: A Life of Passionate Dissent
Holocaust: Nehama Tec for Resilience and Courage
Scholarship: Martin Goodman for Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies
Barbara Dobkin Award, Women's Studies: Tikva Frymer-Kensky for Reading the Women of the Bible
First Time Author Award: Dara Horn for In the Image
Special Recognition Award: Karen Levine for Hana's Suitcase