Ilana Ashkenazi has had a busy week.

The EMET Prize executive director has just completed leafing through the dozens of nominations for their cohort of nominees for 2018, preparing for Passover and, of course, attending to her day job – managing the finances of the prize.

The long hours Ashkenazi invests in the prize is time well spent, as far as she’s concerned. That is because, she believes, it honors the best and brightest of Israeli intellectuals, who are not only brilliant, but decent people dedicated to bettering the world in the unique ways they know-how.

“I saw clearly that these prizewinners do work that is good for the soul, and I wanted to be a part of that. I took on this role of executive director as a volunteer position, because I believe it is a privilege to highlight the work these winners have done for the good of humanity,” Ashkenazi said, when asked why she decided to take on the additional responsibility of streamlining the winner selection process.

The EMET Prize pays homage to excellence in Israel across a variety of fields, and the laureates share a $1 million award given by the AMN Foundation.

The specific fields being honored alternate each year, with 2018 set to award Israel’s finest in chemistry, genetics, Jewish law, anthropology and sociology and photography.

Last year, the prize had a brush with controversy as no female winners were included in their list. This is an issue Ashkenazi is battling head on.

“I personally spoke to many organizations of influence asking for women nominees and explained that if applications for them are not submitted, then of course, it would be impossible to have women included in the list of winners. You have to apply in order to be considered,” she explained.

Fortunately, this year the number of applications nominating female candidates has increased, but Ashkenazi believes there is still a long way to go.

As the call for nominees ended on Monday, Ashkenazi and the award committee have a daunting task before them: selecting the best in a crowded field of dozens of eligible applicants.

“I think it will be a difficult selection process this year,” Ashkenazi predicted. “In photography, for example, we’ve received nominations from the biggest names in Israel – both young and old. There are no easy choices here.”

Ashkenazi expects a final list of winners to be announced by end of June or early July, leaving the committee just a few months to determine who is worthy to receive the honor of being in the same club as previous EMET Prize winners like Prof. Dan Shechtman, Prof. Ada Yonath and A.B. Yehoshua.

This article was written in cooperation with the EMET Prize.