The Israeli Prize for 5775 was awarded on Thursday evening at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. The ceremony will honor visionaries and pioneers in a variety of fields, among them poet Erez Biton and legendary actor Chaim Topol.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the honorees at the event. "This festive ceremony marks the end of a day of national pride. This morning I attended the World Bible Contest and then shook the hands of 120 outstanding soldiers, who are the symbol of our military strength."
"With the Israel Prize we are recognizing our cultural contributions. The strength of the people of Israel is built brick by brick, layer by layer. We are here, in an advanced nation radiating extraordinary light – that is what unites us on our Independence Day," he told the attendees of the ceremony.
"This is a day of celebration and observance, when we look back at our previous achievements and look forwards to those still ahead of us. No one believed one hundred years ago that we would have military, financial, and cultural might," he added.
The Algerian-born Biton, 73, has been blind since childhood and grew up in Lod.
The prize committee headed by literary scholar Avner Holzman said Biton's collections of poetry, which include "Moroccan Gift" (1976), "Book of Mint" (1979), "Bird between Continents" (1989), and "Timbisert, a Moroccan Bird" (2009), are "masterpieces of human experience, frequently centering on the pain of migration, putting down roots in Israel, and the reestablishment of the Mizrahi identity as an inseparable part of the overall Israeli portrait."
Veteran actor Chaim Topol, who is best known for playing the role of Tevye the milkman in the musical show and film version of "Fiddler on the Roof," was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement.
The prize committee members noted that "Topol has been one of the central pillars of Israel's cultural industry for many years now. His diverse activity on stage earned the State of Israel a lot of respect. His activity left a mark on the foundations and infrastructures which led to the development of the entire field, and its influence is still evident in Israeli folklore, singing, acting and entertainment.
Cinematographer David Gurfinkel received the Israel Prize for cinema.
Seventy-six-year-old Gurfinkel's career spans decades. He started working on the "Geva Diaries", a series of newsreels shown before feature films and went on contribute to the groundbreaking experimental films of Uri Zohar in the 1960s, the popular "Bourekas films" of the 1970s, and the "New Israeli Cinema" of the 2000s.