Two YU Sophomores Win the Emma Lazarus Art Award

Yeshiva University is proud to announce that two of its students, Naftali Shavelson ’22YC and Abigail (Avigail) Winokur ’22S, have been selected as prizewinners of the Emma Lazarus Art Award, an annual competition sponsored by Combat Anti-Semitism (CAS), a non-partisan, global grassroots movement of individuals and organizations, across all religions and faiths, united around the goal of ending anti-Semitism.

Participants are encouraged to submit poetry and works of visual art for the award “that will create iconic imagery that can visually embody the 21st century movement to end anti-Semitism.”

Naftali Shavelson

A native of Woodmere, New York, Shavelson explains, “I’ve watched as anti-Semitism has come out of the shadows and gotten simultaneously louder and more accepted in mainstream social and political circles.”  When he heard about the CAS competition, he recognized a great opportunity to use art as well as what he has learned as a media studies major to fight this terrible hatred.

He wrote “A Day in the Life” (see below) from the perspective of a young Jewish boy hearing about the 2015 terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris. In the poem, the young boy wants to remind the world that the poison of anti-Semitism is anything but gone and has devastatingly real consequences.

He had two parallel goals when writing his poem. “I wanted to raise awareness among the international Jewish community about the unprecedented threats facing us today,” said Shavelson. “I also tried to address apathetic bystanders and convince them that they are condoning great atrocities by remaining neutral.”

This is not Shavelson’s first award from the CAS organization; he was also a finalist in CAS’  Abraham and Sarah “Israel in Me” contest, where people can produce a video or essay exploring Israel’s centrality to Jewish identity and human progress – and why celebrating its existence is moral and vital. Shavelson credits Dr. Will Lee, associate professor emeritus; Dr. Paula Geyh, associate professor of English; and David Puretz, lecturer in writing, with encouraging him to be bold and creative in his writing.

His principal inspiration to write poetry came from Rabbi David Ebner, rosh yeshiva [head of school] and mashgiach ruchani [spiritual guidance counselor] at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Israel, whom he describes as a great Torah scholar, a gifted poet and “someone who has brought me to profoundly enjoy both reading and writing poetry.”

Avigail Winokur

According to Winokur, her winning poem, “Never Again is Never Enough,” (see below) was written as something of a sequel to a poem called “And We Walked Out” that she wrote last winter after her trip to Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania during her year at the Midreshet Harova seminary in Israel.

“I was inspired by the idea of being able to walk out of places of death, as free Jewish people, as a way of reclaiming our history as well as the spike in anti-Semitism that worsened right as I returned home from my year in Israel.” She wrote her poem with the thought that not enough action was being taken in order to combat extremism and hatred.

Winokur, hailing from Queens, New York, began researching ways she could make a difference and found CAS and its competition. As she explains, “Because writing is a medium in which I feel most comfortable to express my feelings, I decided to enter the poem contest, and was thrilled that I was chosen as a recipient of the award.  Every Jewish person, and really anyone who values religious liberty, should feel an obligation to take some role, no matter how big or small, in the fight against extremism and hate.”

She is majoring in biology, with a focus on neuroscience; and minoring in creative writing. Winokur is “excited to learn from all of the incredible professors in the English department.”

Shavelson and Winokur were each awarded a prize of $1,000. The competition received approximately 50 entries from around the world and a virtual awards ceremony was recently held over Zoom.

A Day in the Life
by Naftali Shavelson

I remember it too clearly,
that morning at the supermarket,
It was raining and
I was holding my mother’s hand.

We were buying bread, I think, and meat for dinner,
and I was supposed to remember
the fish and the oranges.

They were from Israel, she told me,
and fresh, even in today’s weather.
The rain crashed down outside,
but we were inside, and dry.
A song played on the radio,
beautiful and sad,
aching in a language I couldn’t understand.

I’ve tried for years to find that song,

and just as the bridge rose up
to welcome the chorus,
all of us dancing,
browsing the aisles,
singing,
checking our shopping lists,
blasts shattered the ascent
and the notes fell on us like cold rain.
I had never seen a gun before, not even in the movies.
It was smaller than I expected, and looked cold,
and my mother, holding an orange in her free hand,
smelling it to gauge its sweetness,
turned to see what had interrupted her melody.

——

Yesterday at school, a kid I barely knew
called me a kike and spat in my face.
His friends were with him, one of them
I recognized from history class.

I went to the bathroom to wash up and I cried,
I thought no one was there but I looked up
and saw David and I think he understood.

I tried to get here while it was still light out,
but I missed my bus and here I am.
It’s cold tonight, I know you wouldn’t have liked that.
Don’t worry, I’m wearing a coat.
For what it’s worth, the night is clear and I can see the stars.

I think about that day in the Paris hypercacher too often,
because it was simply yesterday, always yesterday.
If I go to a store or eat an orange or,
or
see a mother and child holding hands,
I’m reminded of what you said.
The smell of blood was in the air by then.
You had been hit, twice, and it looked bad.
You weren’t the only one.
You said
Look
Show him
Did he want me to bleed like this?

I am a Jew.
I have eyes like suns.
I bled that day,
and I have never stopped bleeding.

 

Never Again is Never Enough
By Avigail Winokur

We’ve been chanting never again for 74 years,
But it’s Never Enough.
We’re slipping back into that centennial pattern
Of history repeating itself.
There was a brief moment,
A blip in time during my parents’ youth
Where things were quiet and still Like a dormant volcano.
Ancient hatred didn’t dare bare her face
For too many people were still irreversibly scarred with the gashes of
What humanity is capable of when mankind indulges its dark nature.

And now again, we’re at a cusp and a crossroads.
We face a choice.
Are we going to doom ourselves with our silence and inaction?
Will we accept our fates and fall back on the illusion of safety,
One which has failed us time and time again?
We have the chance to carve out a new fate
One made of the sapphire of the Tablets,
Our ancient covenant.
Not with the crumbling sandstone of Masada,
Or the flimsy wood of the shtetls,
Not even out of the brick and mortar of the West.
Don’t be fooled,
Everything has always had a facade of permanence.
We tend to lose ourselves in false comfort.

But now we know what lies ahead.
What the cruel and sharp end of this cyclical tale is.
The dizzying pendulum swings between persecution and security,
Uncertainty and prosperity,
So we try.
We try to quietly live and serve.
To live and let live.
But it’s never been good enough.
So now,
With the power of hindsight and knowledge,
We can reshape our eternal destiny
And fight back.
We walked out of Egypt,
We walked out of Spain,
We walked out of Poland,
Out of Germany, Out of Russia,
Out of Iraq,
Out of Iran,
Out of Yemen,
Away from the people of the world who abandoned us to die.
We walked into America,
Into Western Europe,
We walked into our new stories and thought we reinvented our history.
We ran into Israel,
But not quite fast enough.

Never Again is Never Enough.
So we’re slipping back into our storyline.
But remember that we can trust no one to catch us but ourselves.
What choice will we make?
Will we continue our shallow cries of condemnation?
Or will we take concrete action to champion our right to exist?
We can’t rely on the empty promises of the rest of the world.
Where were they as we lost six million?
We must acknowledge the existence of this new-old hate
To stymie its progression.
It exists.
It has never left.
We must take action,
Or Never Again will be a long-forgotten chant,
Banished into the shadows with the Jewish people.