Jewish poet changes name to win Arab contest

Jewish woman takes up Arabic penname to get fair chance


What’s in a name? For a Jewish woman in Holland who wanted to be judged fairly in a prestigious Arab literary competition, this was no easy question, and it meant taking up a pseudonym.

Twenty-eight-year-old Tuvit Shlomi, a Jewish woman working at the Center for Inforation and Documentation on Israel, won El Hizjra Prize, a prominent poetry award aimed at promoting culture of Arab immigrants to Holland.

Shlomi, who attends an Orthodox synagogue in The Hague, wanted to make sure judges judged her work fairly, based on its content and not her Jewish identity. Under the alias Wallada bint al-Mustaqfi, an 11th-century Andalusian poet and feminist, Shlomi submitted her work and became a winner with her two poems “My Dream is Dead,” and “Ready for Winter.”

"With an Israeli name, I could imagine they would see the entry and say 'nope,' " Shlomi told JTA in a telephone interview after the results were announced last week.

Despite the trick, Abderazak Sbaiti the head of El Hizira said he was pleased Shlomi won because her participation “proves how multicultural the Netherlands are,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

El Hizjra, Arabic for migration, recognizes emerging poets who write in Arabic, Berber, and Dutch.

However Erik Lindner, one of the contest’s judges, refuted Shlomi’s fear of discrimination, saying the judgement of the poems was based on language and style, not religious or ethnic background.

"My Dream is Dead" is a poem exploring Shlomi's relation to Israel, where she has relatives.

"It is about searching for a home, a purpose, for the real Israel," she said. "But those are things I see in it, and I want to leave it open for other people."

Shlomi called the recognition of the award "quite amazing," and hoped to get published in the future. "I hope there is a publisher who will read this somewhere and will think, 'I want to publish this girl!' "

With an Israeli name, I could imagine they would see the entry and say 'nope'

Tuvit Shlomi, Jewish winner