Jewish woman wins Arab poetry prize

BERLIN (JTA) – Using a pseudonym, a Jewish woman won an Arab poetry contest in Holland.

Tuvit Shlomi, 28, who works at the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel and attends an Orthodox synagogue in The Hague, won the prestigious El Hizjra Prize, a poetry award designed to promote the culture of Arab immigrants to Holland, particularly those from Morocco.

In a bid to ensure her work would be judged on the merits of its content rather than authorship, Shlomi submitted her poems using the pseudonym Wallada bint al-Mustaqfi, who was an 11th-century Andalusian poet and feminist.

“With an Israeli name, I could imagine they would see the entry and say ‘nope, " Shlomi told JTA in a telephone interview.

The award recognizes emerging poets in Dutch, Arabic and Berber. Shlomi won in the 26-plus age category for her poems “My Dream is Dead” and “Ready for Winter.”

In accordance with regulations, Shlomi informed contest organizers of her real name.

Abderazak Sbaiti, director of the El Hizjra Center for Arabic Art and Culture, told a Dutch daily he was pleased for Shlomi.

Shlomi’s participation "proves how multicultural the Netherlands are," Sbaiti said.

Noting that the contest was not limited to those of Moroccan or Arabic background, he said, "We accept all cultures.”

The results of the contest were announced last week.

One of the contest’s judges, Erik Lindner, said Shlomi’s concerns about using her real name were unfounded. Poems were judged on style and language, not theme or name.

Shlomi, whose late mother was a Holocaust survivor and father is Israeli born, described herself as “consciously Jewish.” Though born in Utrecht, Holland, and a congregant at an Orthodox synagogue, Shlomi said it was not a stretch for her to apply for a prize that promotes Berber and Moroccan culture.

“I feel close to other Mediterranean cultures because they remind me of my own,” she said.

“My Dream is Dead” was born from Shlomi’s internal debates about the dream and reality of Israel, where she has many relatives.

“It is about searching for a home, a purpose, for the real Israel,” she said. “But those are things I see in it, and I want to leave it open for other people.”

Shlomi said she has been writing poetry since she was a child.

Poems are born “in the most uncanny moments, when you are asleep or not asleep, or behind a microscope or running to catch a tram,” she said. “It is not like I decide to write a poem. It just knocks on my door.”

Shlomi called the recognition of the award “quite amazing,” adding that "I hope there is a publisher who will read this somewhere and will think, ‘I want to publish this girl!’ ”

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