David Grossman receives major international cultural prizes

DAVID GROSSMAN faces the concept of death in every one of his books.  (photo credit: OFER YANUV)
DAVID GROSSMAN faces the concept of death in every one of his books.
(photo credit: OFER YANUV)

Israeli writer David Grossman was recently honored in several countries and was awarded two major cultural prizes in Sweden and the Netherlands.

In November, Grossman was presented with the Erasmus Prize by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation in Amsterdam. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima both attended the event, as did Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands Modi Ephraim.

“The theme of this year’s prize has been titled ‘mending a torn world.’ In the wide field of literature no one embodies this theme more than Grossman,” wrote the Foundation’s board in motivating the choice. “In his work he seeks to understand people from within, and to regard the other with love, transcending borders of war and history.”

David Grossman (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)David Grossman (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“In a world dominated by serious tensions in which it often seems as if we don’t know how to relate to one another, his extraordinary storytelling brings the unknown and feared ‘other’ closer, transforming conflict, pain and suffering into something that offers consolation. In his numerous novels and essays, Grossman possesses an incomparable ability to mend a torn world,” the statement added.

In his acceptance speech, the writer highlighted how the theme of the 2022 prize originated from a Jewish notion.

“I do not know whether Erasmus of Rotterdam knew of it, but there is no doubt that the concept guided his way of life and mode of thinking,” Grossman said. “‘Mending the World’ (in Hebrew: tikkun olam) describes a fundamental component of Jewish identity: an aspiration and obligation to improve our world; a sense of moral responsibility toward all people, whether Jewish or not; and a concern for social justice and even the environment”

Established in 1958, the Erasmus Prize is awarded annually to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts, in Europe and beyond. The award consists of a cash prize of €150,000. Previous recipients have included Marc Chagall, Martin Buber and Simon Wiesenthal.

During his visit in the Netherlands, Grossman took part in other events as well, including an interview to the Jewish Dutch writer Arnon Grunberg at the Biennale Theater.

In 2021, Grossman had also received the first Berman Literature Prize, established in 2020 by Jewish philantropists Thomas and Catharina Berman. The prize aims to honor authors that in the spirit of the Jewish tradition and literary works explore the richness of Jewish culture and at the same time “exceed times and cultures” thereby striving for the universally human.

“With his novel ‘Life Plays With Me’, Grossman has illustrated a movable mosaic of memories where inherited traumas, family betrayals and a love larger than life are merged into a deeply human depiction of several generations of Jewish life in Europe and Israel,” read the jury’s motivation.

The awarding ceremony in Stockholm was attended by writers, poets, translators, Jewish philanthropists, representatives of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs , local celebrities, and the embassy staff headed by Ambassador Ziv Nevo Kulman and his deputy Arezoo Hersel-Rohila.

Around the same period, Grossman also closed the Seoul International Writers Festival in South Korea with a speech in Hebrew about the history of the language.

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