Reads for Jewish American Heritage Month

By Congressional resolution and Presidential proclamation in 2006, Jewish American Heritage Month is commemorated in May and is a national month of recognition of the history of Jewish contributions to American culture, acknowledging the diverse achievement of the Jewish community in the U.S.

The White House Proclamation from 2021 states “The Jewish American experience is a story of faith, fortitude, and progress.  It is a quintessential American experience — one that is connected to key tenets of American identity, including our Nation’s commitment to freedom of religion and conscience.  This month, we honor Jewish Americans — past and present — who have inextricably woven their experience and their accomplishments into the fabric of our national identity.”

Inau­gu­rat­ed in 1950, the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards awarded by the Jewish Book Council is the longest-run­ning North Amer­i­can awards pro­gram of its kind and is rec­og­nized as the most pres­ti­gious. The Awards are intend­ed to rec­og­nize authors, and encour­age read­ing, of out­stand­ing Eng­lish-lan­guage books of Jew­ish interest.

The winners of the 2021 awards were  honored during a virtual ceremony on April 6. 

This year’s winning books include A Play for the End of the World by Jai Chakrabarti; The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen; A Fortress in Brooklyn by Nathaniel Deutsch and Michael Casper; To Repair a Broken World by Dvora Hacohen; People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn; and The Empathy Diaries by Sherry Turkle.

Below are some more fiction and nonfiction titles available with your library card that highlight and speak to the Amer­i­can Jew­ish expe­ri­ence through­out history. 

American Judaism : A History by Jonathan D. Sarna

Summarizes recent scholarship and takes into account important historical, cultural, and political developments in American Judaism over the past fifteen years.

American Shtetl : The Making Of Kiryas Joel, A Hasidic Village In Upstate New York by Nomi M. Stolzenberg

Settled in the mid-1970s by a small contingent of Hasidic families, Kiryas Joel is an American town with few parallels in Jewish history–but many precedents among religious communities in the United States. This book tells the story of how this group of pious, Yiddish-speaking Jews has grown to become a thriving insular enclave and a powerful local government in upstate New York. 

America’s Jewish Women : A History From Colonial Times To Today by Pamela Susan Nadell

Nadell weaves together the complex story of Jewish women in America–from colonial-era matriarch Grace Nathan and her great-granddaughter, poet Emma Lazarus, to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Recounting how Jewish women have been at the forefront of social, economic, and political causes for centuries, Nadell shows them fighting for suffrage, labor unions, civil rights, feminism, and religious rights–shaping a distinctly Jewish American identity.

The Betrayal Of Anne Frank : A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan

Using new technology, recently discovered documents and sophisticated investigative techniques, an international team–led by an obsessed retired FBI agent–has finally solved the mystery that has haunted generations since World War II: Who betrayed Anne Frank and her family? And why?

Bugsy Siegel : The Dark Side Of The American Dream by Michael Shnayerson

In a brief life that led to a violent end, Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel (1906-1947) rose from desperate poverty to ill-gotten riches, from an early-twentieth-century family of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side to a kingdom of his own making in Las Vegas. This captivating portrait sets out not to absolve Bugsy Siegel but rather to understand him in all his complexity. 

By The Grace Of The Game : The Holocaust, A Basketball Legacy, And An Unprecedented American Dream by Dan Grunfield

This book details a family’s unique story from escaping the Holocaust to landing in America to playing in the NBA.  The true improbability of the saga lies in the discovery of a game that unknowingly held the power to heal wounds, build bridges, and tie together a fractured Jewish family.

How Yiddish Changed America And How America Changed Yiddish 

edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert

An anthology of Yiddish culture and how it has influenced American culture in the process.  The editors offer portions of some of the major works of Yiddish literature, poetry, comics, and political thought, by writers including Isaac Bashevis Singer, Chaim Grade, Cynthia Ozick, and Sophie Tucker, among others. A delightful chapter concentrates on culinary offerings with some recipes included.

Loss Of Memory Is Only Temporary : Stories by Johanna Kaplan

Kaplan plunges readers into family turmoil in New York City apartments as Jewish American life is being abruptly recalibrated in the stunned aftermath of the Holocaust. 

Shadows of Berlin : A Novel by David R. Gillham

Unlike her mother, an artist who died in a German concentration camp, Rachel Perlman managed to survive the war and is now, in 1955, settled in New York, married to a “nice Jewish boy” from Flatbush. Yet the “shadows of Berlin,” where she lived as a “U-Boat”—a Jew hiding in plain sight in a desperate attempt to evade capture—continue to enshroud her life.

Shmuel’s Bridge : Following The Tracks To Auschwitz With My Survivor Father by Jason Sommer

A memoir recounting the author’s trip with his survivor father to Eastern Europe to locate the bridge where his uncle was killed on the way to Auschwitz.

Squirrel Hill : The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting And The Soul Of A Neighborhood by Mark Oppenheimer

Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the country, known for its tight-knit community and the profusion of multigenerational families. On October 27, 2018, a gunman killed eleven Jews who were worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill–the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in American history. This is a piercing portrait of the struggles and triumphs of one of America’s renowned Jewish neighborhoods in the wake of unspeakable tragedy that highlights the hopes, fears, and tensions all Americans must confront on the road to healing.

Thunder In The Soul : To Be Known By God by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Joshua Heschel, descended from a long line of Orthodox rabbis, fled Europe to escape the Nazis. He made the insights of traditional Jewish spirituality come alive for American Jews while speaking out boldly against war and racial injustice.

-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian

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