The Israel Prize, which has become the most prestigious and important award conferred in the State of Israel, is first awarded to nine outstanding Israelis, two posthumously, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. The initial winners are: poet Yaakov Cohen, author Haim Hazaz, historians Gedalya Alon and Mark Dvorjetzki, mathematicians Yaakov Levitzky and Shimshon Amitzur, physician Lipman Halperin, educator Dina Feitelson-Shore and artist Ze’ev Ben Zvi. The prize is initiated by Minister of Education Ben-Zion Dinor and is presented annually.
Each year, committees are appointed by the Minister of Education according to their area of specialty. Each committee submits recommendations for the prize. Award categories include: Jewish Studies, Humanities, Social Studies, Life Sciences, Medicine, Pure Sciences, Culture, Fine Arts and Life Achievement Award for someone who has made an exemplary and lasting contribution to the State of Israel.
The winners are individuals who show outstanding abilities or a breakthrough in their field. The first winners in 1953 each receive 1,000 Israeli Lira. Today the prize money is 75,000 New Israeli Shekels.
In addition to individual winners, approximately 25 organizations have been awarded the Israel Prize. These organizations include: Youth Aliyah, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Habima Theatre, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Yad Sarah, Yad VaShem, Israel Television in Arabic and the American Joint Distribution Committee.
Each year the awards ceremony takes place at the conclusion of the Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities in Jerusalem. The official ceremony takes place in the presence of Israel’s leaders: the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Knesset, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mayor of Jerusalem, and the Minister of Education.
Since 1953, approximately 700 prizes have been awarded to diverse groups of citizens, young and old, religious and secular, women and men and Israeli born individuals and new immigrants. Some notable recipients include: S.Y. Agnon, scholar Nechama Leibowitz, Arab actors and authors Makram Khoury (1987), Amin Tarif (1990), Emile Habibi (1992)
The photo shows David Ben-Gurion giving the 1960 Israel Prize for the Habimah Theater to actor Aharon Meskin. Photo Source: Israel Hayom