Tag Archives: Pulitzer Prize

Jew of the Week: Herman Wouk

America’s Tolstoy

Herman Wouk

Herman Chaim Aviezer Zelig Wouk (1915-2019) was born in New York to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants. He studied at Columbia University and was the editor of its humour magazine. He also took courses at Yeshiva University. After graduating, Wouk worked as a radio actor, and when World War II began, wrote radio commercials in support of the war effort. Wouk enlisted in the army himself after Pearl Harbour, and served in the Navy in the Pacific. He fought in eight battles, won a bunch of medals, and rose to the rank of lieutenant. It was during this time that he wrote his first novel. He sent a copy to an old professor, who passed it on to a publisher, who sent Wouk a contract to his base near Okinawa. The book was published in 1947, shortly after Wouk returned from military service. It was an instant hit. Wouk’s second novel didn’t do so well, but his third, 1951’s The Caine Mutiny, sold a whopping three million copies, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was adapted to a Broadway play, followed by a Hollywood film. A few years later and after another bestseller (also made into a Hollywood film), Wouk was on the cover of TIME magazine. Throughout this time, he maintained strict observance of the Torah and was deeply religious. This was inspired by his grandfather, who taught Wouk the Torah and Talmud in his youth. Wouk would later state that his grandfather and the Navy were the two biggest influences in his life. In 1959, he wrote his first book of non-fiction, This is My God: The Jewish Way of Life. The book was credited with opening up Judaism to the American mainstream, enlightening the world about Jews, and helping to counter anti-Semitic myths. It also showed Jews that it was possible to be modern, American, and Orthodox. His third non-fiction book was about the interplay between religion and science. He also wrote a two-volume, 2000-page war drama likened to War and Peace. Altogether, Wouk wrote 21 books and plays, many of which were adapted into films or TV shows. His last was a memoir published when he was 100 years old. Wouk won countless awards and honourary degrees, and was described by the Library of Congress as an “American Tolstoy”. Stephen King wrote an award-winning short story called Herman Wouk is Still Alive. Wouk is considered by many to be the most successful Orthodox Jewish author to date. Sadly, Wouk passed away two weeks ago, just days shy of his 104th birthday, and in the middle of writing his newest book.

The Kabbalah of Exile and Terrorism

Words of the Week

That idea, that life is here purely for personal pleasure, that is a goal in life for a herd of swine.
– Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Anne Frank

A Diary that Changed the World

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

Annelies Marie Frank (1929-1945) was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Her family fled to Amsterdam shortly after the Nazis took over, and there her father started a new business selling herbs, spices, and fruit extracts. On her thirteenth birthday, Anne received an autograph book that she began to use as a diary, which she addressed as “Kitty”, her best friend. By then, the Nazis had already occupied the Netherlands, and a month later Anne’s family was ordered to report to labour camps. Instead, they hid in a space above her father’s company offices. Some of the employees were aware of this, and provided the Franks with food. During this time, Anne wrote in her diary of her experiences, struggles, and relationships, as well as deeper insights into human nature. In the summer of 1944, the Franks’ hiding place was discovered and the family was arrested. They were sent through various detention centres and labour camps, ending up in Auschwitz. There, her father was taken away and presumed dead, while Anne, her sister, and mother were forced into back-breaking labour. By the time that the two sisters were relocated to Bergen-Belsen, their mother had already succumbed to starvation. Not long before the camp was liberated, a typhus outbreak spread that killed thousands. Anne and her sister were likely among those victims. The only member of the family to survive was Anne’s father, Otto. He went on to publish Anne’s original diary in 1947. By 1952 it was published in the US as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and would go on to be translated into 67 languages. In 1955, the first dramatization of the diary premiered as a Pulitzer prize-winning play. A movie version followed in 1959. The diary is still among the top-selling books of all time, and included in La Monde‘s list of the 100 greatest books of the century. It is praised for its beautiful writing, and is powerful not only for capturing some of the horrors of the Holocaust, but also for its honest portrayal of a girl’s transformation into a young adult. Nelson Mandela read the diary while imprisoned and said how Anne Frank’s story inspired his struggle. Others who derived inspiration from Anne Frank include President Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton. TIME Magazine named Frank as one of its 100 most important people of the century. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam still stands, and is one of the city’s most visited places.

Words of the Week

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

– From the diary of Anne Frank