Forty-Five Foundation Grant Recipients Awarded The Israel Prize
The Memorial Foundation's support to institutions, and even more importantly to individuals, has not only impacted on the work of individual scholars and Jewish scholarly disciplines, as I have documented in recent reports. It also had a remarkable aggregate impact on specific countries and regions of the world.
In this report I will be focusing on the State of Israel. I will be listing and providing brief descriptions below of selected recipients of the Israel Prize, the most prestigious honor in Israel awarded to individuals for their contributions to the State, who have been supported in their pioneering work by the Foundation. Many, if not most, were helped early in their careers when they initiated their important projects.
The number of Foundation recipients awarded the Israel Prize confirms the wisdom and success of the Foundation's vision and mandate, not only in raising up a new generation of scholars, intellectuals, and writers to replace the generation of the Jewish cultural elite that were decimated in the Holocaust in Europe. Through the close to 20,000 grants the Foundation has made to individuals and institutions, the Foundation has made more than a modest contribution to the cultural renaissance of the Jewish people around the world in the post Holocaust era. Our grants have especially contributed to the creation and dissemination of Jewish culture in Israel and helped establish Israel as the cultural center of the Jewish people in contemporary Jewish life.
The additional recipients of the Israel Prize whose work was supported by the Foundation are listed on the attached appendix.
Aharon Appelfeld is today among the best and most well known Jewish writers in the world today. But notably absent at the beginning of his career were moral and material support. He very movingly describes in his marvelous memoir, The Story of a Life, the difficulties he encountered as a child Holocaust survivor trying to establish his identity in Israel. At the very early stages of his career, he received two fellowships, in 1972 and 1973, from the Foundation dealing with children orphaned during the Holocaust and their experience as survivors after the war, a project his future work was based on.
He has since published more than 20 acclaimed works of fiction and non-fiction and achieved international acclaim, besides the Israel Prize in 1983 - the prestigious Medici Prize in France in 2004, the title of Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French government in 2005, and the Nelly Sachs Prize in Germany. For several years he has been on the list of potential Nobel Prize winners for Literature.
Distinguished poets who also received Foundation support are Shin Shalom, the noted poet who was also considered for the Nobel Prize for literature prior to his death. He received two fellowships to publish two volumes of his poetry, and was awarded the Israel Prize in 1973.
Abba Kovner, another distinguished Israeli poet, was commissioned by the Foundation to publish Megilat Ha-Edut, the Scroll of Testimony, regarded as one of the masterpieces of Holocaust literature and a modern Jewish classic. Written in the Jewish tradition of megillot, or scrolls, the pages follow the format of the Talmud, with the central text surrounded by notes and excerpts in poetry and prose. As such, the scrolls appear as a sacred text, with Kovner providing his own commentaries.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz completed his monumental project of translating the Babylonian Talmud into Hebrew with the publication of volume 46 in 2010. The Memorial Foundation began its support for Steinsaltz almost from its inception, funding the preparation and publication of sixteen volumes of his work.
Steinsaltz's life mission has been to give Jewish texts and learning back to the Jewish people, based on his conviction that the fundamental texts of our heritage belong to all the Jewish people. He was especially desirous of making the Talmud accessible to Hebrew speakers, including the secular Israeli public. He has certainly succeeded on all counts.
Professor Menachem Elon
Mishpat Ivri, 1979
Prof. Menachem Elon is the leader of the movement for Mishpat Ivri, promoting the introduction of traditional Jewish legal elements and principles into the legal system of Israel. As Professor of Jewish Law at the Hebrew University Law School, Elon spearheaded study of halakhic texts, responsa literature and Jewish history for that purpose. As Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Justice Elon led the struggle for the application of Jewish legal principles. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 1979.
The Foundation supported Prof. Elon's pioneering work in Mishpat Ivri with four institutional grants in the 1970s and 1980s.
Prof. Elon is also responsible for raising a whole generation of young scholars and lawyers, many supported by the Foundation, dedicated to the formulation of traditional legal practices relevant to the enrichment of Israeli law and its legal profession - bench and bar. Prof. Nahum Rackover, a student of Professor Elon, who has also been awarded the Israel Prize for his work in Mishpat Ivri in 2002, has assembled hundreds of decisions taken by Israeli courts based on Mishpat Ivri in his two-volume work, Modern Applications of Israeli Law (1992).
These grants to Prof. Elon and his students and others in this field, have enabled the Judaization of the Israeli legal system of the future without religious coercion, but rather through research and education.
Prof. Moshe Idel
Prof. Moshe Idel is one of the most eminent and influential scholars of Kabbalah. Soon after he arrived in Israel as an immigrant from Romania, he received three doctoral scholarships in 1973, 1974 and 1978 to complete his doctorate at Hebrew University and two fellowships in 1983 and 1984 to begin creating his scholarly oeuvre.
His major contribution to the field of Jewish mysticism was to return the study of Kabbalah to the realm of religious thought, and demonstrate that it has roots in normative Judaism and Jewish thought. This was a major revision of the work of his teacher, Prof. Gershon Sholem, whose work the Foundation also supported and who received the Israel Prize, who characterized Jewish mysticism as an inward mirror reflecting the external vicissitudes of Jewish history.
Hebrew Literature, 1993
Gershon Shaked overcame an impoverished background to become one of Israel's most important literary critics. He received three fellowships from the Foundation in 1986, 1988 and 1992 for his 5-volume History of Hebrew Narrative Fiction, 1890-1980, his most important literary work, for which he was awarded the Bialik Prize in 1981, in addition to the Israel Prize. He also published more than 20 other books of literary history in which Shaked served as the cartographer of Hebrew literature, examining the changes that Hebrew literature underwent in the past century from historical, social and cultural perspectives. Shaked helped shape the Israeli literary canon and was considered before his death the leading international authority on Israeli literature.
Moshe Goshen Gottstein
Prof. Moshe Goshen Gottstein initiated and led the Hebrew University Bible Project, the most extensive critical edition of the Bible in the world. It surveys the textual history of the Hebrew Bible and is producing critical editions of the 24 books in the Jewish Biblical canon, collated from all extant sources.
The Foundation has not only helped support this project; we have also simultaneously helped train scholars like Prof. Michael Segal, the current director of the project and others who have worked on this monumental undertaking and support them in launching their careers and publishing their subsequent research. Prof. Sara Japhet, another distinguished scholar in Bible, who received fellowship support early in her career, also received the Israel Prize in 2004.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kasher
Rabbi Kasher founded Torah Shelemah, the pioneering encyclopedia of the Pentateuch in which all the relevant material of the oral rabbinic tradition was collected and cited in connection with each scriptural verse in the Pentateuch to which it refers. The Foundation has since 1965 supported the preparation and publication of 22 volumes of the Torah Shelemah, including most of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.
Professor Dov Noy is the major figure in the renaissance of the study of Jewish folklore. He began collecting folktales from the new immigrant communities in Israel after the creation of the State of Israel. There was a great sense of urgency at that time for this enterprise because of the rapid acculturation of the new ethnic groups in Israel stemming from their modernization, and the accelerating pressure for their integration into Israeli society. His subsequent work encompassed all aspects of Jewish folklore.
Noy is responsible for the creation of Jewish folklore as an academic discipline in Israel, where it had formerly been viewed by many main-line Jewish intellectuals as marginal to Jewish life. He established the Folklore Research Center at Hebrew University, which the Foundation supported from 1969 to 1985. The Foundation also supported the work of many of his students at the Folklore Research Center, who have also become major figures in the field.
Prof. Ziva Amishai Maisels
Art History, 2004
Prof. Maisels, a distinguished art historian, devoted several decades, with the support of three fellowships by the Foundation in 1974, 1982 and 1991, to the influence of the Holocaust on Modern Art. In her words, this work involved much "soul searching" and "soul steeling." The major problem confronting artists of the Holocaust, according to Maisels, was how to deal with the concept of evil, depicting the depth of the depravity of the Holocaust, while also attempting to make some sense of it.
One of her major achievements is the success of her work in making the Holocaust become a significant part of the language of discourse in modern art.
The Foundation has supported the history, research, documentation and education of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem since its inception, and has been responsible for the publication there of countless volumes dealing with all aspects of the Shoah. One of Yad Vashem's most prominent achievements for which it was awarded the Israel Prize is the Pinkasei Hakehillot, the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust. The Foundation helped to initiate the series and provided it with substantial funding. The volumes cover Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Libya, Tunisia and the former Soviet Union, including Belorussia and Ukraine.
Another crucial area of Yad Vashem's important work is Holocaust Education. When their emphasis was almost wholly confined to the history and documentation of the Holocaust, the Foundation encouraged Yad Vashem to undertake programs of Holocaust education in the Golah. The Foundation provided Yad Vashem with seed money for that program from which it developed the world-renowned International Center for Holocaust Education.
Like many of the other projects cited above, we have through our work at Yad Vashem supported the training and publications of the current generation of Holocaust scholars in Israel, including Yehuda Bauer, who was awarded the Israel Prize in 1998, and his colleagues and students.
Prof. Moshe Bar Asher
Hebrew Language, 1993
Prof. Moshe Bar Asher, born in Morocco and raised in a Maabara in Israel, received two doctoral scholarships in 1970 & 1972 and two Fellowships in 1993 and 1995 to help launch his scholarly career.
He serves as President of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the major scientific body in Israel dealing with Hebrew in Israel and is the leading scholar internationally in Rabbinic Hebrew.
Prof. Anita Shapira
Jewish History, 2008
Prof. Anita Shapira's award of the Israel Prize for Zionist History was long overdue acknowledgement of the importance of this field in the history of the Jewish people, to which Prof. Shapira has devoted her career.
Prof. Shapira received two doctoral scholarships in 1973 & 1974 to complete her doctoral studies at Tel Aviv University, where she held the Merenfeld Chair for the Study of Zionism and headed the Chaim Weitzman Institute for the Study of Zionism. She also served as President of the Memorial Foundation from 2002-2008.
Prof. Daniel Sperber
Jewish Studies, 1992
Prof. Daniel Sperber received the Israel Prize for his most prominent work, Minhagei Yisrael: Original History, which deals with the character and evolution of Jewish customs. He is the author of some thirty books and more than three hundred scholarly articles dealing with Jewish law and how it has and can evolve.
Prof. Sperber received two doctoral scholarships in 1996 & 1997 which enabled him to complete his doctorate. He currently serves as the Vice President of the Memorial Foundation, Professor of Talmud at Bar Ilan University and Director of its Midrasha.
The Memorial Foundation is exceedingly proud of its achievements in Israel. We are continuing those programs that have garnered such excellent results in the past. In addition to our regular Scholarship and Fellowship program, more than ten years ago we launched the Urbach post-doctoral fellowships which provides special grants to the most promising young men and women in Israel for future leadership in Jewish cultural life.
One example suffices to demonstrate the continuing effectiveness of our work. Prof. Menachem Ben Sasson, who was recently appointed the President of Hebrew University was supported by the Foundation from the beginning of his academic career, receiving doctoral and fellowship scholarships and a number of institutional grants for his scholarly work in the field of Jewish History.
May our work in Israel in the future continue to replicate and even enlarge our achievements of the past.
With warm regards.
Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President