Three poets awarded 2019 poetry prize honoring the late Nechama Rivlin

Sivan Har-Shefi, Avishai Houri and Lee Maman display a deep connection to Judaism.

PRESIDENT REUVEN Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, enjoy the beauty of Jerusalem in the snow in February 2015.  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, enjoy the beauty of Jerusalem in the snow in February 2015.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Honoring the late Nechama Rivlin, famous for her love of culture and poetry, the 2019 President’s Award for Hebrew Poetry in her memory will be awarded to three modern poets working today. They are Dr. Sivan Har-Shefi, Avishai Houri and Lee Maman.
The prize (also known as the Dr. Gardner Simon Prize for Hebrew Poetry), was founded by Rivlin with administrator General Sigal Yaakobi in 2018, to promote and encourage Hebrew writing, totals NIS 70,000 [roughly $20,000]. Dr. Gardner Simon, after whom the prize is named, created and funded the prize to promote Hebrew writing in 1971.
Har-Shefi wrote in the past about the poetry of Yona Wallach and Uri Zvi Greenberg. Wallach was famous for writing provocative erotic personal poetry which alludes to Jewish prayer-items and Greenberg was famous for his prophetic, nationalistic-inspired poetry.
Har-Shefi won the lion’s share [NIS 50,000] of the prize for her 2018 book Zarqa. Har-Shefi had been publishing poetry since 2005; this is her fourth volume of published poetry. Her husband, Avishar, is a poet in his own right.
Poet Avishai Houri was awarded NIS 10,000 for his first book of poetry, released in 2019 after he raised funds in a head start project. The book, How to Make a Chasm, explores Houri’s discovery of his homosexuality and his struggles grappling with his religious upbringing.
While LGBTQ people are embraced by many Jewish communities, not all are so fortunate. Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz, for example, famously said that conversion therapy works and he had seen that it does. Faced with fierce criticism he released an open letter to school-principals in which he said that he is “a fierce opponent” of such so-called therapies.
Poet Lee Maman won a NIS 10,000 award for her 2017 book What This is Similar To, her first published poetry volume in which she explores Israeli, Jewish and modern issues in “emotional and linguistic urgency,” as described by the press statement on behalf of the President’s office.
Anat Rivlin, who took on her late mother’s role in the committee with her passing, called Har-Shefi to inform her of her winning. “My mother loved poetry very much,” she said, “I am so happy for you.”
Har-Shefi said that it is a “special honor” for her to win the prize and was greatly moved.
Speaking about his late wife when the winners were announced on Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin said she used to read poetry to him. “She had a great love of the written word,” he said.