If you are a leader in your chosen field – say philosophy, theater or medical research – and you happen to be a woman, you may have had a good chance of landing an EMET Prize this year.
The EMET Prize for Art, Science and Culture, to give its full title, is awarded annually in recognition of “excellence in academic and professional achievements that have far-reaching influence” in society. All recipients must be Israeli or be resident here. All told, this year’s roll call takes in nine envelope pushers in their disciplines, and – possibly most surprising and refreshing – five are women.
Ilana Ashkenazi, director of the EMET Prize organization, which operates under the auspices of the A.M.N. Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Art and Culture, founded in 1999 by Alberto Moscona Nisim, says it is high time the gender imbalance was redressed.
“Last year there were no female winners, so I called on women, through the media, to apply for the prize,” Ashkenazi says, happily noting the success of the initiative. “This year there are five female winners.”
The proof of that pudding is now out there for all to see, with the likes of Prof. Eva Illouz and Prof. Hannah Herzog on this year’s laureate roster.
Moroccan-born Illouz was brought up in France, and completed a BA in sociology and an MA in literature in her first adopted country, before taking a second master’s degree, in communication studies, at the Hebrew University, followed by a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work in the field of the sociology of culture and emotions, and the connection between emotions and capitalism, has brought her global recognition.
Meanwhile, Herzog, a sociology and anthropology professor has, for many years, focused on political media and gender sociology.
“All that was needed was to open up new opportunities, and as soon as the EMET Prize launched a media campaign calling on women to present their candidacy, we’re seeing more and more winners. The achievements of women speak for themselves,” said attorney Shlomit Barnea, a member of the Prize award committee.
There is also a female prize recipient in this year’s arts category, in the form of Michal Rovner. Rovner is a celebrated global multidisciplinary artist with a heavyweight bio that takes in solo exhibitions in video, sculpture, drawing, sound and installations, at major venues such as the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the Jeu de Paume and Louvre in Paris, and London’s Tate Gallery.
In 2006, she began a series of monumental structures titled “Makom” (Place), using stones from dismantled or destroyed Israeli and Palestinian houses from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa, the Galilee, and the Israeli-Syrian border. Seven years later Rovner created the Traces of Life installation at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, devoted to the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust.
Rovner’s male counterpart in this year’s EMET Prize arts section is photographer Sharon Yaari. The 51-year-old Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design senior lecturer’s work has been exhibited in London, New York, Vienna, Madrid and Berlin, in addition to shows at the Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Besides having their work showcased at the world’s prestigious arts facilities, EMET Prize-winning artists and their fellow laureates from the other award categories gain a significant feather in their professional cap.
“This is a very important award,” notes Arie Dubson, who sits on the EMET Award Committee and also serves as chairman of the A.M.N. Foundation. “We relate to EMET as the Israeli Nobel Prize. The standards achieved by all our winners over the years certainly justify that reputation.”
The Nobel comparison may, to some, sound a little overambitious, but Dubson says the facts on the ground are indisputable. “We have EMET prizewinners who later went on to Oslo to receive the Nobel Prize.”
Indeed, 2011 Nobel Prize recipient Dan Shechtman, a material sciences specialist, was presented with an EMET award nine years earlier. 2002 EMET Prize-winner biologist Aaron Ciechanover received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2004, and crystallographer Ada Yonath followed her 2006 EMET award with the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Like Ashkenazi, Dubson says he is also delighted with the number of women on the EMET Prize roster this year. “We can only give prizes to people whose names have been put forward, and we worked very hard this year to make sure women were also represented. Now you can see the fruits of our effort. There is no gender difference in terms of standard of achievement. That is clear.”
This story was written with the cooperation of the EMET Prize.