Ellis Shuman

Ayelet Tsabari wins Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature

Ayelet Tsabari, author of the short story collection The Best Place On Earth (HarperCollins Canada, March 2013), is the winner of the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, it was announced yesterday.

The Sami Rohr Prize – an award of $100,000 – “honors emerging writers who explore the Jewish experience in a specific work of fiction.”

In her stories, the Jewish Book Council announcement said, Ayelet Tsabari “explores Israeli history through characters of Mizrahi background (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) that are at the crossroads of nationalities, religions, and communities.”

“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.“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.”

Best Place on EarthMy review of The Best Place on Earth determined Tsabari’s stories to be “compelling and compassionate; they speak out from the heart of Israeli society and experiences.”

Ayelet Tsabari was born and raised in Israel but moved to Canada in her twenties. In an April 2013 interview with the author, I wondered whether an author permanently living in Canada could still be considered Israeli.

“I will probably always see myself as an Israeli first,” she told me. “With the exception of one brother, who lives in Montreal, my entire family lives in Israel and I still spend long periods of time there: in 2012 I was there for almost six months of the year, longer than the amount of time I spent in Toronto! It’s still home to me, despite not living my day-to-day life there. It’s shaped who I am now.”

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a writers’ workshop given by Ayelet Tsabari in Beit Zayit in January 2014. She is not only a truly talented writer but a very capable teacher as well.

Canadian Kenneth Bonert, author of The Lion Seeker – an epic tale of Jewish Johannesburg –was awarded the runner up 2015 Sami Rohr Choice Award prize of $25,000.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.