Hadassah Magazine’s 2019 Ribalow Prize Award to Michael David Lukas for The Last Watchman of Cairo

Monday, Nov 25 2019

Michael David Lukas, author of The Last Watchman of Old Cairo (Spiegel & Grau/Random House)

Contact: Renee Young
Hadassah National Public Relations

November 25, 2019 – NEW YORK, NY - Hadassah Magazine announces that Michael David Lukas, author of The Last Watchman of Old Cairo (Spiegel & Grau/Random House), is the recipient of the 2019 Harold U. Ribalow Prize, according to Lisa Hostein, executive editor of the award-winning publication.  For the past 36 years, Hadassah Magazine has awarded the Ribalow Prize to an author who has created an outstanding work of fiction on a Jewish theme.

The other 2019 Ribalow Award finalists were: Death and Other Holidays by Marci Vogel (Melville House) and Sadness Is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher (Washington Square Press). This year’s judges included Julian Levinson, Samuel Shetzer Associate Professor of American Jewish Studies at the University of Michigan; Sara Houghteling,  winner of the 2010 Ribalow Prize and author of Pictures at an Exhibition; and Carol Zoref, 2018 Ribalow Prize winner for Barren Island. 

An excerpt of the novel by Lukas, who lives in Oakland, Calif, where he teaches at San Francisco State University, along with an author interview appears in the November/December 2019 issue of Hadassah Magazine. The annual Ribalow Award ceremony will be held December 12 at Hadassah’s national office in New York City.

The novel, also the recipient of the Sami Rohr Prize and the National Jewish Book Award in Fiction, takes place in three time periods and on two continents. It looks at the intersection of the Muslim and Jewish past and present through the life of Joseph, son of an Egyptian-born Jewish mother and Muslim father. Members of his father’s family, Joseph learns, have been the loyal guardians of a synagogue and its treasures. The book has been translated into Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic. 

Lukas states, “I’ve always been interested in the parentage of a child of a Jewish mother and Muslim father. Because of the matrilineal descent in Judaism and the patrilineal descent in Islam, you can officially be recognized as a Jew and as a Muslim at once. I wanted to play with that.” 

The author says his connection to Islam and the Arab world in general comes from having lived in Cairo for a while and having studied Arabic and Hebrew in college.

Marlene Post, the chair of Hadassah Magazine, adds: “The Last Watchman of Old Cairo tells the engaging story of a lost piece of Jewish history in the Arab world that still touches the soul.” 

Ms. Hostein, the executive editor, says: “We are delighted to honor the work of Michael David Lukas, whose intriguing novel delves not only into the family history of a Jewish-Muslim man but also focuses on the relations that once existed between Muslims and Jews in Cairo.

Michael David Lukas is a graduate of Brown University and has an MFA from University of Maryland in creative writing.  His first book, The Oracle of Stambou, has been translated into 14 languages. An essayist, he has been widely published in The New York Times, the Forward, The Wall Street Journal, Slate and Publisher’s Weekly. He has been awarded numerous fellowships and awards, including a Fulbright Teaching Scholar in Turkey and a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship.

Hadassah Magazine’s annual literary award was established in 1983 by the friends and family of the late Harold U. Ribalow, an editor, writer and anthologist known for his passion for Jewish literature and his interest in promoting the work of new writers. Ribalow was the author of some 15 books that shared in common aspects of Jewish interest, but which covered a wide range of subjects. In addition, Ribalow was the founder and editor of Hadoar, for many years the only Hebrew weekly in the world outside Israel, and he was a member of the Jewish Academy of Arts & Sciences. In addition to Carol Zoref, past recipients of the Harold U. Ribalow Award include: Rose Tremain in 2017 (The Gustav Sonata, W.W. Norton); Jim Shepard in 2016 (The Book of Aron, Alfred A. Knopf); Molly Antopol in 2015 (The UnAmericans, W.W. Norton).

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) is the largest Jewish women’s organization in the United States. With 300,000 members, associates and supporters Hadassah brings Jewish women together to effect change and advocate on critical issues such as women’s health equity and the security of Israel.  Through the Hadassah Medical Organization's two hospitals, the world-renowned trauma center and the leading research facility in Jerusalem, Hadassah supports the delivery of exemplary patient care to over a million people every year. HMO serves without regard to race, religion or nationality and earned a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2005 for building “bridges to peace” throughequality in medical treatment. For more information, visit my.hadassah.org.

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