Simon Lichman Receives Benjamin A. Botkin Prize

AFS News, Annual Meeting News, Prizes
photo of simon lichman

Simon Lichman (Director of the Centre for Creativity and Education in Cultural Heritage) received the Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for lifetime achievement in public folklore.

Each year, the American Folklore Society’s Executive Board and the Society’s Public Programs Section to award the Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for significant lifetime achievement in public folklore. The prize is given in recognition of the work of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975), a New Deal era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writer’ Project from l938-39, head of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress from 1942-45, and an advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists.

At the Society’s October Annual Meeting, the 2022 Benjamin A. Botkin prize was awarded to Simon Lichman, Director of the Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage (CCECH), a non-profit organization he founded in l991 in Israel with his wife, Rivanna Miller. For more than thirty years his life’s work has been to bring together Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian school communities, students, teachers, and community professionals through folklore.

An accomplished and widely published poet, Lichman received his B.A. in Literature from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981. He has served on the Journal of American Folklore editorial board and his writing in folklore and folklore in education has been published in numerous journals and books. He has taught courses at several universities in Israel, including a course with Bedouin students. His powerful Presidential Address at the 2014 AFS Annual Meeting about his work in Jewish and Arab communities and schools and the central role that folklore plays in bringing communities together received a standing ovation. 

In their support letter, Hebrew University of Jerusalem professors, Galit Hasan-Rokem and Dani Schrire compared Simon’s work to Benjamin Botkin’s: “Although Simon operates in very different contexts, he brings the same commitment of a public folklorist – leaving the comfort zone, courageously reaching out where tension and sometimes violence is latent, while addressing matters of concern for many that can make a difference…Although many folklorists in Israel take an active role in various political activities, none have applied folklore in these contexts as deeply and systematically as Simon has done.”

Hasan-Rokem and Schrire also write about the challenges of Lichman’s work and the humanity in his approach: “Cultural discontinuity is a key challenge addressed by Israeli and Palestinian folklorists alike. The CCECH [Center] puts folklore at its heart, addressing these discontinuities by asking children (Israeli and Palestinian) to interview older members of their families as a starting point. Through the discovery of folklore, children first acknowledge the way political upheavals are connected to their family cultures. When these children face children from the “other”community, similarities are identified and ground for dialogue based on mutual recognition is set. Folklore is used here as a bridge – as it often does in other contexts – yet in a very sensitive context, based on human dignity and carried out on a small scale.”

Folklorist Robert Baron wrote in his support letter: “Simon speaks to educators in a language they understand, with a strong grounding in the foundations of education that contributes to public folklore, folklore and education, and intercultural education. In Israel it is among very few successful programs that bring Arab and Jewish communities together, creating intercultural relationships and a sense of hope for the multiple generations that participate in the CCECH programs.”

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