Michael Frank at the 72nd Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards Celebration

Pho­to­graph by Leor Michan

On March 1, 2023, we had the hon­or of cel­e­brat­ing the 72nd Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award win­ners at Bohemi­an Nation­al Hall. Over the next few weeks, we will be pub­lish­ing the remarks of the win­ners who spoke at this cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner. Michael Frank is the win­ner of the Holo­caust Mem­oir Award and the Sephardic Cul­ture Mimi S. Frank Award in Mem­o­ry of Becky Levy for his book One Hun­dred Sat­ur­days: Stel­la Levi and the Search for a Lost World.

Stel­la Levi’s gen­eros­i­ty of spir­it ani­mates every page of One Hun­dred Sat­ur­days. Over a span of more than six years Stel­la opened up to me, chal­lenged me, pro­voked me, cor­rect­ed me, encour­aged me, and — by the end — changed me. My expe­ri­ence with Stel­la devel­oped me as a lis­ten­er; it helped me learn patience; it taught me sev­er­al things about myself. 

It also showed me that a book can take many forms. What I had with Stel­la — and what I sought to have in turn with the read­er — was an encounter: an encounter with the past, an encounter with a fas­ci­nat­ing lost world, an encounter with a mod­­ern-day Scheherazade. 

In try­ing to under­stand what this encounter meant, I was helped by Wal­ter Benjamin’s 1936 essay The Sto­ry­teller,” where he observes that telling sto­ries is the art of retelling those we have heard.” Telling as retelling: after my six years with Stel­la, this res­onat­ed with me, and pro­found­ly. In this way,” Ben­jamin goes on to say, the web is woven in which the gift of sto­ry­telling is embedded.” 

Weav­ing that web, offer­ing and receiv­ing the gift of sto­ry­telling, is not lim­it­ed to one book, or a sin­gle cor­ner of the web. Ben­jamin refers at one point to the fun­da­men­tal role” that sto­ry­telling has played in humanity’s house­hold” — what a beau­ti­ful phrase! All of the books being rec­og­nized this evening have con­tributed, each in its own way, to humanity’s house­hold, and One Hun­dred Sat­ur­days is for­tu­nate to be among them. 

Michael Frank is the author of What Is Miss­ing, a nov­el, and The Mighty Franks, a mem­oir, which was award­ed the 2018 JQ Wingate Prize and was named one of the best books of the year by The Tele­graph and The New States­man. His essays, arti­cles, and short sto­ries have appeared in The New York Times, Los Ange­les Times, The Atlantic, Slate, The Yale Review, Salma­gun­di, The TLS, Tablet, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. The recip­i­ent of a 2020 Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship, he lives with his fam­i­ly in New York City and Camogli, Italy.