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The Litr'y Life at ESRA and The Award Goes To......

At the Award Ceremony: Prof. Joan Leegant, author and guest speaker, Merle Guttmann, ESRA President & Editor ESRA Magazine and Zipporah Porath. Photo by Motti Zaslow.

The printed word was very much alive and kicking early this summer as a boisterous gaggle of local writers — along with the people who love them — descended upon the Open University's Neudorfer Hall in Raanana last June 9. The occasion for this colorful ingathering of amateur and professional journalists, novelists, essayists and short story writers was the long-awaited award ceremony for ESRA Magazine's third literary competition, entitled "My Israel."

This most recent competition was launched in celebration of ESRA Magazine's 30th anniversary in the summer of 2009. In the Magazine's 150th issue, ESRA readers were invited to submit short memoirs of no more than 2,000 words that addressed each contestant's personal connection with the State of Israel, or his/her experiences in this always-exciting, never-predictable country. Fifty three brave readers gamely responded to the call. The submissions were vetted by no fewer than 20 judges, consisting of ESRA editor Merle Guttmann along with the magazine's editorial board, in three rounds of judging and elimination.

Ten finalists remained standing at the end — first, second and third place winners, along with seven "honorable mentions." As people, the finalists could not have been more diverse, ranging in ages from 34 to 85 and in places of origin from the Netherlands to the Philippines. As writers, however, all ten explored the same basic themes of love of Israel, fascination for its people and culture, and pride in having played a part — however small — in the ongoing drama of its extraordinary history.

After a late afternoon reception enlivened by white wine and light refreshments, the awards ceremony got under way with some welcoming remarks by ESRA Magazine founding editor Merle Guttmann. These were followed by short introductory speeches by Mr. Alan Hoffman, Director-General of the Jewish Agency and Dr. Esther Klein-Wohl, Head of the English Department at The Open University, Israel's largest university and our host for the evening's festivities. Mr. Hoffman drew gasps of surprise as he admitted never having heard of ESRA or its magazine until recently. He quickly redeemed himself, however, by promising to involve himself with ESRA activities on behalf of new immigrants and to subscribe to our magazine.

Author, teacher and literary award winner Joan Leegant delighted the writer-heavy audience with her keynote lecture, "A Few Myths and Possible Truths about becoming a Writer." Formerly an attorney before becoming a writer herself, Leegant won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for the best book of Jewish-American fiction and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for her novel, An Hour in Paradise.

With the applause from Leegant's lecture still echoing around the auditorium, it was time to present the awards. First Prize went to Esther Kunda, 81, who was introduced and ushered to the podium by Dr. Pamela Peled, herself a prolific writer, teacher and member of ESRA Magazine's editorial board. Ms. Kunda, cheered on by her fellow residents and staff of the Beth Protea Retirement Home, expressed her gratitude for the award won by her story, "The Strawberry Woman." Ms. Kunda, who came to Israel from South Africa in 1950, wrote about a Holocaust survivor and the burden of guilt she carries for her wounded son.

Second Prize went to Petra van der Zande, 53, for "Grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree," her memoir of settling in Israel with her husband as Christian Zionists in 1989, and adopting several children with special needs. As her surname would imply, Ms. van der Zande and her husband are from Holland.

New Jersey native and psychologist Eric Moss, 66, took Third Prize for "Convoy to Sderot," an account of his adoptive daughter's desire to meet her biological family. Moss has lived here in Israel since 1960.

The seven Honorable Mention awards were then handed out (see full list of awardees below), including one to Theresa Binban, a 34 year old caregiver from the Philippines. Ms. Binban's participation in the competition served as a gratifying reminder of ESRA Magazine's diverse readership.

The audience was then feted with a much-appreciated musical performance by the MetroWest High School Vocal Ensemble. The young group, consisting of eight singers accompanied by a pianist, performed a jazz selection by Duke Ellington, as well as "Strawberry Fields" by the Beatles, in honor of Esther Kunda's First Prize-winning story, "The Strawberry Woman."

The evening ended with some brief closing remarks by ESRA co-chair Adele Hunter, along with a promise by Merle Guttmann to hold yet another ESRA Magazine literary competition "in due course."

The ESRA Magazine "MY Israel" Literary Competition Finalists

First Prize

Esther Kunda, 81, made aliyah from South Africa in 1950.

"The Strawberry Woman" tells of a Holocaust survivor who carries with her a heavy burden of guilt for her wounded son.

Second Prize

Petra van der Zande, 53, settled in Israel in 1989 from Holland.

"Grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree" is a true story of how she and her husband, both Christian Zionists, come here out of love for Israel and adopt several special needs children.

Third Prize

Eric Moss, 66, made aliyah from New Jersey in 1960 and is a psychologist.

"Convoy to Sderot" is based on his own story of how his adopted daughter brings her adoptive family to meet her biological family.

Honorable Mention

Helen Bar–Lev, 68, made aliyah in 1963.

"October, 1973" tells the story of a young woman who comes to Israel just before the Yom Kippur war and learns of her brother's death.

Theresa Binban, 34, is a caregiver from the Philippines.

"I came to Israel eight years ago" is her story of sacrifice, patience and understanding.

Pearl Novick, 70, made aliyah from South Africa in 1977 and works as a paralegal.

"Israel the Beautiful" is the true story of how she held a blood drive for her late daughter, ill with MDS, and the amazing reaction of the people of Israel to her appeal.

Jill Sadowsky, 72, made aliyah in 1963 from South Africa.

"A Snake in the House" recounts how a housewife's knowledge of snakes proves fortuitous.

Dvora Shurman, 85, made aliyah from Seattle, Washington, in 1970 and worked as a teacher and translator.

"A Lass in Wonderland" tells of her experience in a retirement home as a parody of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Yonatan Sredni, 38, made aliyah from California in 1994 and has degrees in English and Creative Writing.

"Unmasking J.C." relates events at a gas mask distribution center in a Jerusalem mall as part of his army service.

Jerry Stevenson, 68, is a businessman who made aliyah from Los Angeles in 1967.

"The House on Abarbanel Street" relates his adventures as a young volunteer, confronted with a culture strange to him. 



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