The Jewish Book Council has bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award in past years on literary figures Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick. This year’s award, however, went to someone not as well known in the world of literature, but who has contributed to the Jewish community as well as the world of literature and science.
Eric Kandel, best known as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000, serves as an “ambassador of the Jewish people to the world,” according to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, who introduced Kandel at the award ceremony Thursday night at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. Accepting the award, Kandel, author of “In Search of Memory,” provided a personal and compelling overview of his life’s work, rooted in a simple question: How could the Viennese he grew up with listen to Hayden one day and then perpetrate Kristallnacht the next?
Attempting to obtain insight into the human mind, Kandel attended medical school to become a psychoanalyst but there, he changed course, followed his instincts and decided to study the biological basis of the brain and of memory, one cell at a time. Those studies ultimately led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize.
“Our brains are a creativity machine,” Dr. Kandel said, which means, “you’ll all walk out of this room tonight with a slightly different brain than when you came in.”
Hosted by authors Samuel Freedman and Abigail Pogrebin, the National Jewish Book Awards encompasses 17 categories of Jewish writing, from illustrated children’s books to writing based on archival material. The Jewish Book of the Year Award was given to the authors of the trilogy, “City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York,” the first scholarly, comprehensive book on Jews in New York, spanning the years 1654 through 2010.
Angela Himsel is a freelance writer in New York City.