This essay from Ayelet Tsbabari’s memoir, The Art of Leaving, first appeared in the 2018 issue of Paper Brigade. Reviewing the issue for Tablet, Liel Leibovitz praised this “touching tribute to the late, great Israeli pop star Ofra Haza … the piece is a gorgeous meditation on what it means to try and fit in when practically nothing in the culture looks or feels like you, and how one iconic singer can inspire a personal and artistic transformation.”
In the mid-eighties, after an impassioned campaign led by my brother and me, my mother had pirated cable installed in our house. One day, two burly men, unshaven and smelling of cigarettes, climbed on our roof and tinkered with our antenna. We weren’t the only delinquents; everyone on the street did it. Israeli television only had one channel then, which had just begun broadcasting in color and offered limited programming for about ten hours a day, most of it dreary. The only show we watched religiously was Friday night’s Arabic movie: tear-jerking Egyptian melodramas featuring voluptuous, smoky-eyed, big-haired starlets my mother often scolded for their bad choices. More often than not, I preferred reading books to watching television. The arrival of illegal cable changed everything; it broadcast twenty-four hours a day, screening movies and miniseries rented from the local video store, and some late-night erotica I snuck downstairs to watch after everyone fell asleep.
One afternoon, during my mother’s daily nap, I turned on the TV and was delighted to happen upon the 1979 Israeli flick Shlager (The Hit), showcasing my childhood hero Ofra Haza and the song that launched her career, “The Freha Song.” I sat crossed-legged in front of the screen, mesmerized by Ofra’s younger incarnation. Fresh-faced and still unknown, she looked a little bit like family, like one of my more beautiful cousins.
In the years since the movie was released, Ofra had gone on to become wildly famous, winning second place in the 1983 annual Eurovision song contest (another television event we watched dutifully) dressed in a glittery outfit and singing “Israel Is Alive” in Munich, of all places. Later she would go on to become Israel’s biggest musical export to date, selling millions of records around the globe and earning a Grammy nomination. Later still, a tragic figure whose story would haunt fans long after her death.
Even without a developed Yemeni identity, I knew enough to be proud of Ofra Haza. The young singer from Hatikva Quarter, the impoverished neighborhood in South Tel Aviv, and the youngest of nine children born to Yemeni immigrants, was my community’s Cinderella story and one of few Mizrahi artists who made it into the heart of the Israeli canon. Ofra’s humble beginnings gave me hope, for I wanted to be a singer and an actress when I grew up, just like her. I was already in the school’s choir and had taken several drama classes, and I had the right genes. I may have never heard of a Yemeni author (which made my other dream of becoming a writer seem more farfetched), but everyone knew that Yemenis were great entertainers. The three times Israel won the Eurovision contest, it was represented by Yemeni singers. Despite the glaring bias against artists of Mizrahi descent and the radio’s systematic exclusion of Mizrahi music — a genre inspired by Middle Eastern and North African musical traditions and rhythms — those Yemeni singers were seen as great ambassadors for Israel’s image. European viewers went crazy for their “exotic” looks, their dance moves, and their Yemeni ’fros. Our singing voice and our cuisine — spicy, doughy, often yellow with turmeric and fragrant with fenugreek and cilantro — were our greatest contributions to Israeli culture.
In the movie, just before Ofra breaks into “The Freha Song,” she asks her date, a boring-looking, suit-wearing Ashkenazi man, to dance with her. He replies with contempt, “Are you some kind of a freha whose head is between her legs?” Even at eleven, I knew what frehas were — knew I didn’t want to become one. The freha looked a lot like the starlets in the Egyptian movies we watched every Friday. She wore dramatic makeup and elaborate accessories (as Ofra sings, “Wherever the lights are, that’s where I’ll go, with the nail polish, the lipstick, and other showoffs”). She wasn’t very smart (“I don’t have a head for long words”), liked to party (“I want to dance, I want to laugh”), was promiscuous (“I want during the days, I want during the nights”), and she knew, deep inside, that she would never escape the poor neighborhood she came from (“At the end of every freha hides a small housing project, a husband, and air pollution from a thousand directions”).
I also knew that the freha was Mizrahi. Not just because in the movie she was portrayed by a Yemeni actress, or because the term originated from a name common among women of North African descent, derived from the Arabic word for “happiness.” But also because I had seen frehas in my neighborhood — older girls from the technical high school down the street who sat on the barricades holding cigarettes with thin, manicured fingers, laughing loudly, their bodies bursting from their tight, revealing outfits, and their gait assured and all-sex. I had seen them on the outskirts of Sha’ariya, in the newer additions to the traditional Yemeni neighborhood where both of my parents grew up and my grandparents still lived. Sha’ariya made me uneasy, alive with aspects of my identity I had wished to distance myself from: the loud Mizrahi music blaring from car windows, the elderly women in their headscarves who squinted at me when I walked by with my cousins, asking in their strange syntax and thick accents, “Bat mi at?” Whose daughter are you? Similarly, the teenage frehas I had seen there, loitering by the falafel place or at the park, always surrounded by lusting boys, brought to light a part of me that I was conditioned to reject. Though I thought myself better than them, smarter, more versed in the ways of the world, I secretly envied the confidence with which they carried themselves, as though they knew something I didn’t, something about boys, or their bodies, or sex, or about how to be happy. They were only a couple of years older than me, but they appeared to be women already, while I was still a girl.
<p>Though I thought myself better than them, smarter, more versed in the ways of the world, I secretly envied the confidence with which they carried themselves, as though they knew something I didn’t, something about boys, or their bodies, or sex, or about how to be happy.</p>
“The Freha Song” had swept through Israel in a frenzy, remaining at the top of the charts for five consecutive weeks. Even after this big break, and despite singing mainstream pop that did not fall under the “Mizrahi” label, Ofra struggled to find lyricists and composers willing to write for her. Eventually, her manager, Bezalel Aloni, began writing her music, and later in her career, Ofra wrote her own songs. Her fans voted to award her the “Singer of the Year” title, and her albums broke sales records, but the radio rarely played her music. “I don’t know why they don’t give me a chance,” she said in an interview. Aloni, less diplomatic, simply said “The radio is for Ashkenazi singers.”
“I can’t wear that,” I told my high school friend Yael. She was offering me one of her short, tight skirts to borrow for the night. We were going dancing at Liquid Club in south Tel Aviv, a large, smoky hangar that played new wave, pop, and punk. The evening had just begun and I was already far outside my comfort zone: I was wearing Yael’s stylish button-up blouse, and my curly hair was huge after allowing Yael to blow dry it upside down while I was bent over the sink. I didn’t know what one did in clubs. I didn’t know how to talk to boys. I didn’t own the right clothes and I couldn’t dance. Unless, of course, I was at a wedding with my family and traditional Yemeni music started playing. Despite my aversion to popular Mizrahi music with its undulating voices and corny lyrics, my body had a visceral reaction to Yemeni beats, to the sound of tin drums — a buzz that coursed through it, compelling me to rise to my feet.
At that point, my obsession with Ofra had simmered down to a mature admiration. In junior high I had removed Ofra’s wholesome posters from my walls and replaced them with Madonna’s. Hypersexual and provocative, Madonna was the mother of all frehas, and as a newly proclaimed feminist I found her empowering. My horrified mother sighed and shook her head whenever I left for school dressed in lace and ripped stockings, neck laden with chains, arms dangling with silver bangles that tinkled loudly whenever I flipped a page in my textbook, irritating my teachers. Thankfully, that phase was over.
Ofra, too, had matured and turned in a new musical direction. In 1984, she recorded Yemeni Songs, an album of remixed traditional Yemeni tunes, devotional and secular, in Hebrew and in Arabic — songs her mother, who was a henna singer back in Yemen, had sung to her when she was a child. Ofra appeared on the cover in a traditional Yemeni wedding gown, an ornate golden hood over her head. The record was met with bewilderment. Not until the album was released in England to great acclaim, and European club-goers began hopping to the same Yemeni beats I had danced to at family weddings, did Israeli media take notice. Her subsequent Yemeni album, Shaday, sold more than a million copies worldwide, and won her the New Music Award for Best International Album of the Year in New York.
My friend Yael held the skirt in front of me. “Why not?”
“Because I’d look like a freha,” I said. Animal prints were also out. Certain shades of lipstick, such as blood red and neon pink. Dangly, large earrings. Anything gold. Anything with rhinestones. Bleached hair, a popular trend amongst my fair-skinned friends, was an absolute no-no. A Mizrahi girl with blonde streaks was as freha as one could get.
“That’s crazy. You’re not a freha,” Yael said with conviction. “So nothing you’ll ever wear will make you look like one.” Yael’s parents had come from Poland. She could wear anything.
For a moment I reconsidered. Then I remembered how wearing the wrong things in junior high during the ill-fated Madonna phase got me attention from the wrong men. Older Mizrahi men who wore thick golden necklaces and tight T‑shirts and too much gel in their hair. In other words, arsim, the male counterparts of frehas and plural for ars, the colloquial Arabic word for “pimp.” They would inch by me in their cars, lean outside the window and say uninspired things like, “You’re a flower that needs a constant gardener,” and “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?”
At fifteen, I had just developed a set of hips and an ass that drew more attention than I cared for, especially in contrast to the rest of my scrawny body. Those hips, if I wasn’t paying attention, swayed from side to side when I walked in a manner I soon discovered could be read as “asking for it.” I didn’t even know they did that until a boy at school pointed it out, laughing and yelling, “Look at her meantezet!” using an Arabic slang word to describe my hip-swaying walk. I had a vague notion that the use of an Arabic word somehow made it worse. Ars and freha were Arabic words, as were many of the commonly used swear words in Israel. To add insult to injury, “Ha-meantezet” was the title of a popular Mizrahi song, mocked for its shallow, distasteful lyrics. The song was about a woman — a freha judging by the depiction of her “see-through shirt and provocative skirt” — who “shakes her two butt cheeks” as she walks, driving the male narrator wild with desire. And I knew what they said about Yemeni women, how they were “hot,” and “good in bed.” I’d heard the jokes meant to illustrate the stereotype, one of which included inserting corn kernels into a Yemeni woman’s vagina and watching them pop.
My hips and ass became obscene to me: they were doing something all on their own, something I had not asked them to do, something frehas did on purpose. I tried to take smaller steps to keep my hips from swinging, contain them somehow, make myself less shapely, less of a woman.
Around eleventh grade, I realized my best shot at not being mistaken for a freha was to aim for the other extreme. I became a hippie, which suited my romantic notions of a bohemian, artsy lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle I imagined a budding writer-slash-actor would lead. Earlier that year I had been accepted to a youth group run by Habima, the National Theatre in Tel Aviv, where we studied acting and watched plays. The year before that, I had been selected as one of a dozen young journalists for Maariv Lanoar, the most popular teen magazine in the country. I published articles, essays, stories, and poems, and soon was skipping school regularly, taking the bus to the magazine’s office in Tel Aviv and traveling the country for interviews and events.
At first, my hippie-ness was mostly expressed through my fashion choices: long flowery skirts and dresses, trench coats and vests. I perused the flea market in Jaffa for silver earrings, chiffon scarves, and harem pants. I stopped brushing my hair and came to school dressed in conversation pieces. If I wasn’t going to be popular, at least I would be memorable. Then I began catching up on music I figured I should listen to in order to grant my image more cred, music far more sophisticated than Madonna or Ofra Haza, like Janis Joplin, Carole King, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
When strangers asked — judging by my newly cultivated look — if I were from a kibbutz or a moshav, Ashkenazi strongholds in Israel (the same way that developing, impoverished towns were predominantly Mizrahi), I took it as a compliment. When meeting new people, I casually mentioned my contempt for Mizrahi music, made references to Chekhov or Lorca, worked my writing career and love of theater into conversation, and flaunted my impressive vocabulary, so they would know I had “a head for long words.” I shared progressive political views that were not necessarily in line with what you’d expect a Mizrahi girl to have, as Mizrahim traditionally vote for right-wing parties. At one demonstration I attended, a couple of men gaped at me: a Mizrahi, hippie girl carrying a peace sign. “Look at this little schora.” They spat their words with derision. “Who do you think you are?” I’d been called black before— once, by a disappointed boy Yael had set me up with, to whom she neglected to mention my Yemeni background. Even though I had always been fair for a Yemeni, fairer than many of my cousins who had been taught by their mothers to fear the sun; fair like my grandmother who was admired for her light skin, while her twin sister, Saida, was nicknamed Aswada—“black” in Arabic.
Bored and restless in school, I started doing freha impressions during class to my teachers’ displeasure and to the delight of the back row. Making fun of frehas ensured— so I thought — that no one would ever confuse me for one. Lacking the confidence to sing on stage, I had long given up on my musical aspirations, but acting was different: playing a role granted me a welcome hiatus from my unhappy, awkward self. And the freha was an easy act: I threw my head forward and combed my hair with my fingers to give it volume, chewed gum with an open mouth, blew bubbles, tossed my hair from side to side, and dumbed down my language. My classmates were entertained.
Then I wrote an entire freha monologue and acted it out in a couple of auditions for commercials and movies. The freha monologue got me the small part of a vulgar, angry wife for a Turkish coffee commercial. It made the judges for the coveted Army Entertainment Band, which performed at remote bases to raise morale, laugh out loud. It got me past the first cut and into a second selection process. This was no easy feat. Inconceivably, Ofra herself had never made it into the Army Band. “I guess she didn’t fit the style,” her manager said dryly.
Later, I performed the monologue on demand at parties. “Do the freha,” my friends would implore. And I would, enjoying the laughter, high on the attention. Not once stopping to think about the girl I was mocking. My own inner freha began escorting me everywhere, my sidekick, always ready to make an entrance. While I was often insecure around new people, she was chatty, and too stupid to care what people thought of her. Sometimes in social situations I’d slip into her momentarily for laughs, making a comment or an inarticulate observation accompanied by a hair toss. People who didn’t know me sometimes confused her for me, exchanging glances with their friends and rolling their eyes. And though I should have regarded it as the best compliment to my acting skills, I was mortified, and quickly made sure they knew I was kidding. That wasn’t me. I wasn’t her.
People in Israel like to say that the compulsory army service is Israel’s biggest melting pot. Young men and women from different backgrounds and social and economic statuses are brought together, mixed, and blended at high speed. In reality, there is also a great measure of segregation, reminiscent of — and likely originating from — a tracking system that directs Mizrahi youth toward technical schools, gearing them for menial jobs in mechanics, cooking, and secretarial staff.
At the end of basic training, the army decided the best way to use my skills was to station me as a secretary in an administrative base. I knew I’d scored high in the pre-army classification test we took in twelfth grade. I had peeked at my printout sheet during one of the appointments in basic training, noticing, also, that it said “Yemen” under family origin even though I was born in Israel and so were my parents. For weeks, I cried over my assignment. I had been working as a journalist from the age of fifteen, and my test results were high enough for me to become a pilot had I been a man. Surely there was a better way the army could have used me. Not to mention, I couldn’t type, file, or make coffee. I wasn’t even a high-ranking officer’s secretary, but everyone knew that to be in those offices you had to be thin, pretty, and preferably blonde, because you were the face of the Israeli Defense Force.
I had peeked at my printout sheet during one of the appointments in basic training, noticing, also, that it said “Yemen” under family origin even though I was born in Israel and so were my parents. For weeks, I cried over my assignment.
Since its creation in 1948, Israel has never had a Mizrahi prime minister, and it’s only had three Mizrahi chiefs of general staff, with the first one coming into the position thirty-six years after the founding of the country. And while you’d be hard pressed to find a Mizrahi pilot (being a pilot is considered the most elite position one can attain in the IDF, or as the Air Force’s slogan claims “The Best for Pilotage!”), it was apparent that most drivers, janitors, quartermaster clerks, and sentries in the army were of Mizrahi background.
After a year as the army’s worst secretary, and after giving up on the army entirely (arguably, it gave up on me first), I found myself in one of these lowermost positions, pressing buttons that opened and closed the gate to the base.
A friend from school came to visit one day. Ilanit was an officer now: it was evident in her step, her newly acquired poise, her confidence boosted by those rectangular pieces of metal sewn on her shoulder straps that indicated her rank. The pity in her eyes was palpable. While she was there, I got into an unnecessary argument with one of the janitors, in the middle of which he yelled, “Shut up, you dumb freha.”
Ilanit’s cheeks reddened. “How dare you?” She stumbled for words. “Do you know who she is?”
“Yeah,” the guy said. “She presses buttons at the gate.”
“She’s a writer!” Ilanit said, but the guy snorted and walked away, waving in dismissal.
“It’s fine.” I shrugged. “I don’t care.”
I was in khaki like everyone else. But I was on the bottom rung of the army ladder, and I was Mizrahi, and it was the only slur that fit.
“You’re a simple girl,” a guy I met on a beach in Sinai once said to me, with a paternal smile. My (Ashkenazi, kibbutznik) boyfriend Roee and I had come to Sinai for a vacation after completing our army service. We slept in a straw hut by the sea, struck up conversations with strangers, made friends with other backpackers in the huts next door. This man — educated, well-off, Ashkenazi, and slightly older — was one of them.
“I am not simple,” I snapped. “You don’t know me.”
“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” he said.
I glared and said nothing.
“I just don’t get it. Why would he think of me as simple?” I asked Roee later.
He shrugged. “Who cares about this guy?”
A slang dictionary by Dan Ben Amotz and Nativa Ben Yehuda describes the freha as “A simple girl, vulgar, uneducated, and lacking in class, who dresses according to the latest fashion.” All that effort and still, to this man, I couldn’t be anything else. With or without the hippie clothing, with or without the kibbutznik boyfriend.
“I am a simple girl from Hatikva neighborhood,” Ofra had said in an interview once, unchanged by her fame or fortune. “A Yemeni girl with legs on the ground who enjoys life, loves her parents, and thanks God.”
I had spent a lifetime proving to unimportant people that I was complex, slipping into yet another patronizing label, mishtaknezet—a Mizrahi who’s trying to “pass” as Ashkenazi, as if being cultured, educated, and articulate were qualities reserved for Europeans.
Ofra was known for her gentle manners and great constraint. She didn’t party, she didn’t date. Her makeup was subtle and her attire conservative. If anything, Ofra Haza was the anti-freha. There was something almost unreasonably pure and innocent about her. She found joy and purpose in simplicity, in being grounded, in being connected to one’s roots, qualities I had failed to appreciate or possess. I had spent a lifetime proving to unimportant people that I was complex, slipping into yet another patronizing label, mishtaknezet—a Mizrahi who’s trying to “pass” as Ashkenazi, as if being cultured, educated, and articulate were qualities reserved for Europeans. It had been so much work to keep apologizing when I hadn’t fully understood the accusation. I couldn’t see that by striving to prove myself different, I was estranging myself from my heritage, my history, myself.
In my early thirties, I started working at a Lebanese restaurant in Vancouver. Mona’s was a hub around which the Middle Eastern community in the city assembled, a new Middle East to which I — the Israeli, the Jew — was graciously permitted entrance. At Mona’s I looked like everyone else. “You look more Arabic than I do!” Mona often said with a chuckle. The music they played, the food they served, the language they spoke, was familiar and comforting. The family quickly adopted me, celebrated holidays and birthdays with me. I was half a world away from my country, and for the first time since I’d moved to Canada, I felt at home.
The groups of young women who came to Mona’s to dine and dance and smoke water pipes often looked like what I imagined the actresses from the Arabic movies would have looked like today. They reminded me of the teenage girls from Sha’ariya, exhibiting that overstated expression of womanhood that made me — the late bloomer who couldn’t walk in heels, who found skills such as applying eye shadow or blow-drying one’s hair inscrutable and foreign — feel like an impostor.
During my six-year stint at Mona’s, their magic started rubbing off onto me. It was during that time that I also discovered my own Arab-ness, my way back to the Yemeni identity I had rejected as a teen, as though my body retuned itself, gave up the fight. Perhaps feeling at home in my own skin had made me more at ease with my femininity, too, made me care less about what people might think or what they might call me. Or perhaps it was the acceptance of oneself that comes with age. Some days, I wore miniskirts to work; revealing blouses over pushup bras; long dangly earrings or large hoops; dramatic, ornate jewelry, sometimes even gold. I learned to apply makeup, had my eyebrows threaded at the Iranian aesthetician they recommended, cut my hair at the Lebanese hairdresser who specialized in curly, Middle Eastern manes. I strutted with my trays across the floor, hips swaying, and belly-danced to Arabic pop much like the Mizrahi music I had once snubbed, embracing the sensuality of the dance, allowing the natural movement of my body to take place, for my body to take up space. Never had I spent as much time on my appearance as I did while working at Mona’s. And though I did not pull it off as well as my young tutors did — never with the same effortlessness — during those years at Mona’s, I felt more beautiful and womanly than ever before.
The late Dr. Vickie Shiran, a Mizrahi scholar, activist, and poet, once wrote about the twinge she feels when she hears the word freha. “I see you,” she wrote, “a Moroccan woman standing embarrassed, and behind your back the shimmering ugly face of the Israeli mob who took your beautiful name and made it synonymous with a vulgar woman whose heart is rough … Took your name and used it to mock my daughters and your granddaughters.”
It’s been thirty-seven years since “The Freha Song” took over Israel, and probably twenty years since anyone has called me by that slur. Things have changed in Israel: the disparities between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi have narrowed, partly because of intermarriages; popular Mizrahi music found its way into the heart of mainstream radio, and Mizrahi activists began calling the media out on their underrepresentation of Mizrahi characters, demanding to see more brown-skinned actors in advertisements and commercials, and not just in the role of frehas, arsim, criminals, and working men. Young Mizrahi poets have sidestepped the gatekeepers by crowdfunding their own books and launching their own poetry readings, and poet Erez Biton became the first Mizrahi writer to win the Israel Prize for Literature. Subsequently, the Israeli government asked Biton to head a new committee that recommended adding Mizrahi content to the school curriculum. Still, only nine percent of the academic staff in Israel is Mizrahi, and most key positions in places like the Supreme Court and the media are held by Ashkenazi. And while Israeli slang has also evolved and changed, “freha” shows no signs of fading away.
In recent years, some young, professional, Mizrahi women in Israel have decided to reclaim the term. They created a Facebook page defiantly named “Who are you calling a freha?”, its cover photo asserting, “This is not Europe.” Their “About” section reads, “Do you love wearing animal prints but they twist their face at you in university? Do you enjoy rhinestones but people call you freha?,” and their photos showcase women with long manicured nails and bold fashions.
When I watch Ofra singing “The Freha Song” now, I see there is something unconvincing about her delivery that I couldn’t see then, a little flinch in her eyes whenever she utters the words, “Ani freha.” For a while, I wanted to believe it was subversive and brave of her to be singing those lyrics, an act of reclaiming the demeaning label as these young women in the Facebook group try to do today. But the song was never truly hers: “The Freha Song” was written by Assi Dayan, son of the legendary Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan, a tortured artist with a penchant for drugs and women, and a privileged Ashkenazi man who knew nothing about the freha experience.
Despite Ofra’s wholesome image, “The Freha Song” is one of the songs most associated with her beginning. But the song, and the controversy it spurred, was also a roadblock in her career. Officials at Galey Tsahal, the popular army radio station, considered banning it, concerned with its inappropriate content. Some Israelis thought it racist and offensive. Toward the end of her days, Ofra refused to sing the song, distancing herself from it and from what it represented.
Ofra’s death in 2000 from a disease later revealed to be a complication of AIDS shocked everyone. She was young, recently married, and at the height of her career. By then, I was living in Vancouver, working part-time as a barista, mostly stoned, and achingly lonely. It was in the days before social media and I was slowly becoming disengaged from mycountry, its pop culture, its gossip, and news.
Listening to Ofra’s CDs in my West End apartment in the days following her death— the gray from my sixth-floor windows infinite and vapid — I found that I still knew all the words. Her voice stirred forgotten childhood memories, an old nagging ache. I had always held an irrational conviction that one day I’d meet her in person. Even after she sang for Disney’s The Prince of Egypt, and sat on Johnny Carson’s couch, she felt so close, so human and real, as though I could run into her at any minute on the streets of Sha’ariya.
Now, I thought, I would never get to tell her what she had meant to me growing up, how much she had inspired me, given me hope, empowered me. Because in a world where the actors on TV were Ashkenazi and the singers on the radio were Ashkenazi and the models in magazines were Ashkenazi, there was Ofra, the simple Yemeni girl from Hatikva neighborhood whose star shone brighter than anyone’s, who made it against all odds, and who looked like me, or like one of my more beautiful cousins. Like family.
Ayelet Tsabari was born in Israel to a large family of Yemeni descent. After serving in the Israeli army, she traveled extensively throughout Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe, and now lives in Toronto, where she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto. The Best Place on Earth won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.