Israel Prize for Literature Awarded to Ida Fink, Tuvya Ruebner and Nili Mirsky

Tahel Frosh
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Tahel Frosh

Ida Fink, Tuvya Ruebner and Nili Mirsky are the winners of the 2008 Israel Prize for Literature, Poetry and Translation (respectively). The three were informed of the award on Sunday. The jury consisted of Professor Nissim Calderon (chair), Professor Dan Laor, Professor Avidov Lipsker, Professor Chaya Shacham, the education minister's adviser on the Israel Prize, Professor Dov Goldberger and Israel Prize supervisor Chaya Horowitz.

Ida Fink, 86, was born in Ukraine; her father was a doctor and her mother was a teacher. During World War II she lived with her family in the Zbaraz Ghetto and in 1942 she escaped from there with her sister. After the Holocaust she married, gave birth to a daughter and in 1957 immigrated to Israel. For many years she lived in Holon and worked as a music librarian and testimony-taker at Yad Vashem. In 1971 she began publishing her stories.

Fink, who writes in Polish and has thus far been awarded the Anne Frank Prize, the Buchman Prize and the Sapir Prize, has published a number of volumes of stories, of which "A Scrap of Time and Other Stories," "The Journey" and "Traces" are available in English translations. Her short stories are delicate sketches, which include autobiographical details, about the Holocaust period.

Among the jury's reasons for the award: "Fink is above all a great artist of the short story, from the narrow elite of writers to work in this field in the second half of the 20th century. Her stories, which excel in great restraint, frugal means of expression and precision of language, return again and again to the same period and describe the impossible situations that were created by the historical atrocity. Fink, who immigrated to this country in 1957 and writes in the Polish language, was been warmly received by the Israeli reading public through David Weinfeld's translations and she has earned great esteem outside of Israel as well."

Fink, who lives with her sister in Ramat Aviv, is not feeling well. Her sister has said only that the award "was a complete surprise."

Tuvya Ruebner, poet, editor, translator and photographer, was born in 1924 in Bratislava in Slovakia. In his youth he completed only nine years of schooling, as Jews were prohibited from attending school and he began to work as an electrician. In 1941 he immigrated to Israel, without his parents, through Youth Aliyah. His parents, sisters and grandparents were sent to Poland and died in the Holocaust.

Ruebner was educated at a number of kibbutzim and participated for a short time in the War of Independence. Ever since the end of that war he has been a member of Kibbutz Merhavia. For many years he was a schoolteacher and after than he lectured on literature at Haifa University. Recently a representative selection of his poems, "Footsteps of Days," was published by Keshev.

In its statement, the jury wrote: "Tuvya Ruebner has been one of the foremost Hebrew poets for five decades now. His poetry grapples in a personal and unique way with the great topics of modern Jewish history, above all the Holocaust of the Jews of Europe and the experience of immigration to the Land of Israel. Ruebner's poetry is planted in two main landscapes, those of Europe and of Israel, and in this respect embodies 'the pain of two homelands' and the unresolved tension between them. This is restrained, polished and intellectual poetry. It is nourished by the ancient strata of Hebrew poetry and the best of the tradition of Central European poetry."

In reaction to the prize, Ruebner said: "I did not expect the award - it came as a surprise. I have never boasted of my work and I have not been in the center and I have not tried to be. I would prefer to remain modestly in my corner from now own because I am already old."

According to Ruebner: "The prize does not change the man. I am happy because every artist wants recognition and over the years here I have not received what I deserved. When I was young I was sad about that but now the award will not change me. I am glad that they have come to recognize things. If a few good readers are found, those who see the inside, I will have gained."

Nili Mirsky, 63, was born and grew up in Tel Aviv on King George Street in the building in which she lives today. She is considered the patroness of Russian literature in Israel. She studied literature at Tel Aviv University, in the same class as the editor and university professor Menachem Perry and translator and poetry journal editor Halit Yeshurun. She then completed a doctorate in French, Russian and German literature in Munich. When she returned to Israel she taught literature at Tel Aviv University.

At the same time she began translating from Russian and German. Among the books she has translated into Hebrew are Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks," Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina," Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Gambler" and "The Idiot" and works by Maxim Gorky, Nikolai Gogol, Vladimir Nabokov, Ivan Turgenev, Isaac Babel, Anton Chekhov and others.

Mirsky is also the editor of the Sifriya La'am series at Am Oved Publishers, initially together with Ilana Hammerman and currently alongside Moshe Ron and Tirza Biron-Fried. She is among the veteran editors of Israeli literature who make a point of traditional editing that intervenes in texts and contents.

The jury noted: "Nili Mirsky has brought translation to a particularly high artistic level. Her extensive translation project has paved the way for the Israeli reader to the greats of European literature. Mirsky's translations excel in attentive listening to the literary voice of the original and the refusal to produce a single model for translation.

"She finds flexible and appropriate Hebrew dress for each writer's unique style and at the same time her works of translation live and breathe in the Hebrew language." "I wasn't waiting for the prize, because I hadn't lobbied for myself," said Mirsky this week. "The prize comes just a few months after the publication of the translation of Andrei Platonov's "The Fierce and Beautiful World," the book that is closest to my heart. I am dreaming of retiring and translating non-stop." In an interview with Haaretz about half-a-year ago, Mirsky said of her work: "Language is a kind of soul that in principle isn't even translatable. Translation from one language to another is altogether a silly idea. There is," she added, "something similar between the work of the translator and the work of a pianist - for both, it is a work of performance. In the one there are notes and in the other there is text, and everyone adds his own interpretation."



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