With emotion and perhaps some trepidation about future expectations, writer Matti Friedman Tuesday night gratefully accepted the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Non-Fiction for his book, The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible.
The prize is accompanied by $100,000, a gift made in order to offer emerging writers the wherewithal to work on their next book. The second prize, awarded this year to Sarah Bunin Benor, author of Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language of Orthodox Judaism, is accompanied by a $25,000 prize.
The Rohr Prize, a gift to philanthropist Sami Rohr from his family for his 80th birthday, has been given annually since 2007 and considers works of fiction and nonfiction in alternating years. Rohr died last year at the age of 86, and Tuesday night’s ceremony was the first since his death in August 2012.
The speeches at the ceremony, held at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel and hosted by the Jewish Book Council, were about the importance of books of Jewish content. Writer Daniel Gordis, author of the recently published “Menachem Begin, The Battle for Israel’s Soul,” spoke about the historical context of Begin’s story, tying it to his involvment in the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, where the evening’s events were taking place.
George Rohr, the son of Sami Rohr, read from both Bunin Benor and Friedman’s books, followed by thank-you speeches from each of the authors.
Friedman, a former Associated Press reporter and writer at the Times of Israel, spoke of his ongoing work and the struggle to refrain from cliches in writing, a sometimes difficult task in Israel where the reporting life is often rife with that very opportunity.
“The Aleppo Codex,” said Friedman, a true-life detective story that traces how the invaluable Aleppo Codex manuscript was smuggled from its hiding place in Syria into the newly founded State of Israel, is a story about Israel, with real-life characters who in many ways fly in the face of any kind of definition. He introduced two of the people interviewed at length for the book, present in the audience, to the delighted applause of the crowd.
Friedman’s next book, also a non-fiction, will be published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 2015.