Yoram Kaniuk is the winner of the 2010 Sapir Prize for Literature for his book 1948, a memoir of his experiences as a young soldier during the War of Independence.

The Sapir Prize is one of nine major literary prizes that are awarded in Israel.

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Named in memory of Pinchas Sapir – who was among the pioneers in the early years of the state, and who served in numerous capacities including finance minister and industry, trade and labor minister – the prize is awarded by the state lottery and is the most lucrative in the country financially and, in terms of prestige, is second only to the Israel Prize.

At an awards ceremony at the Tel Aviv Port on Wednesday evening, Kaniuk was presented with a check for NIS 150,000.

Widely acknowledged as one of Israel’s leading writers, the multi-faceted 80-year-old, Tel Aviv-born Kaniuk, who is also a painter, journalist and theater critic, has been the recipient of several literary prizes including the Ze’ev Prize for Children’s Literature, the President’s Prize, the Bialik Prize, Prix de Droits del’Homme (Paris), and Prix Mediterranee Etranger, among others.

His books have been translated into 25 languages. Kaniuk will be honored again in May of this year when he receives an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University at the annual meeting of its Board of Governors.

In January of this year, the state lottery published a list of 12 authors whose books had been nominated for the prize from among the scores of submissions.

In February, the list was cut down to five. The four who trailed behind Kaniuk and received NIS 25,000 each are Nir Bar-Am for Good People, Leah Aini for Rose of Lebanon, Assaf Inbari for Home and Sayad Kashua for his book Second Person Singular.

For all its good intentions, the Sapir Prize has been mired in controversy, most notably with regard to the 2009 prize that was awarded to Alon Hilu for his book The House of Rajani by a jury headed by Yossi Sarid who happened to be indirectly related to the editor of Hilu’s book.

The powers-that-be at the state lottery decided that this constituted a conflict of interests, and in a dramatic decision that provoked extensive media coverage, deprived Hilu of his glory and cancelled the prize for that year. Ariel Hirschfeld sat on the same panel as Sarid but, unlike Sarid, had signed a disclosure form in which he acknowledged a vague connection with another contender Ronit Matalon whose book Sound of our Steps carries a dedication to him.

Both Sarid and Hirschfeld said that it was unfair and unfortunate that the writers were made to suffer for something for which they themselves were not responsible.

Curiously, the Sapir Prize was established in Israel in 2000 and another Sapir Prize was established in America in 2001 by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology.

The two have no relationship.


The American award honors the memory of Edward Sapir, a German-Jewish linguistic anthropologist who migrated to the United States in 1888 and prompted American academics to realize the influence of language on the way in which people think. The prize named for him is given every two years to a book that makes the most significant contribution to the understanding of language in society or to the ways in which language mediates historical or contemporary socio-cultural processes.

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