Future of Jewish writing looks bright at inaugural CJN awards ceremony

CJN prize winners with editor Yoni Goldstein (right)
CJN prize winners with editor Yoni Goldstein (right)

At the inaugural awards ceremony for The CJN Prize for Young Writers, held Feb.10 on the campus of York University, some of our community’s most gifted young writers displayed their talent to an enthusiastic crowd. It was an inspirational evening, for the winners and their proud families, for the enthusiastic crowd on-hand, and for the staff of The Canadian Jewish News.

Speaking to the crowd as the evening got underway, Barbara Kay, the National Post columnist and CJN contributor –  and one of three judges for The CJN Prize along with CJN columnists Evelyn Tauben and Norman Ravvin – reflected on her own experiences nurturing young writers (this one included). Next, Carl Ehrlich and Sara Horowitz, representing the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies at York, meditated on the great history of Jewish writing and literature.

Then it was time to hand out some awards.

Yoni Goldstein, left, Jasen Sagman, middle, and MP Michael Levitt
Yoni Goldstein, left, Jasen Sagman, middle, and MP Michael Levitt

Jasen Sagman took home The CJN Prize, along with a cheque for $1,800 (a nice payday for any writer), for his essay, Who speaks out for Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands? Ten runners-up prizes were also handed out to Michael Aarenau, Zack Babins, Mitchell Consky, Sarah Czosniak, Yardena Katz, Mira Katz-Blumenthal, Shoshana Mirlas, Jonah Simcha Chaim Muskat-Brown, Jessica Pollock and Roni Zveiris.

After everyone in attendance had collected their awards, four of the runners-up and Sagman took turns reading from their essays. If any of them were nervous, it didn’t show.

Mira Katz-Blumenthal distilled the history of the Yiddish lullaby as “a primary vehicle through which Jewish mothers were able to articulate their dreams and aspirations for their children” during a reading of her piece, Loving Lullabies: Yiddish Cradle Songs as Vehicles of Maternal Expression. Mitchell Consky followed with an energetic recitation of Forty-Five Seconds of Free Fall Adrenaline, chronicling his maiden skydiving voyage, an experience he shared with his Israeli instructor.

Sarah Czosniak took the crowd on a trip through the Canadian prairies in her essay Finding Judaism in Rural Manitoba, including visits to the former Jewish farming colony in Bender Hamlet, Manitoba, and the ghost town of Hirsch, Sask., where she stumbled upon a Jewish cemetery. She then turned the stage over to Jessica Pollock, who considered the role of Jewish mothers as the pillars of Jewish communities in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe in The Saga of the Eastern European Eshet Chayil.

Carl Ehrlich (director of the Israel and Golda Koschitsky Centre for Jewish Studies), left, Jessica Pollock, middle, and Yoni Goldstein, right

Finally, Jasen Sagman read from his winning submission, a passionate defence of Jewish refugees displaced from Arab states after 1948 War of Independence. “This call to guarantee the rights and reparations for Jewish refugees from Arab states will not counter Palestinian rights and claims,” he explained. “Rather, it will encourage all parties to recognize the fact that there were two groups of refugees, each of whom are entitled to redress and to an enduring peace and co-existence.”

All told, the evening was a reminder of the reciprocal relationship between The CJN and the Canadian Jewish community – and, of course, an opportunity for Jewish mothers and fathers to shep naches from their talented children. As the ceremony drew to a close, there was little doubt that the future of Jewish writing in Canada looks bright.