By Congressional resolution and Presidential proclamation in 2006, Jewish American Heritage Month is commemorated in May. It is a national month of recognition of the more than 350 years of Jewish contributions to American culture, acknowledging the diverse achievements of the Jewish community in the U.S. in fields ranging from sports, arts and entertainment, medicine, business, science, government, and military service.
The White House Proclamation for the year states, “This month, we celebrate the enduring heritage of Jewish Americans, whose values, culture, and contributions have shaped our character as a Nation. For generations, the story of the Jewish people — one of resilience, faith, and hope in the face of adversity, prejudice and persecution — has been woven into the fabric of our Nation’s story. It has driven us forward in our ongoing march for justice, equality, and freedom as we recommit to upholding the principles of our Nation’s founding and realizing the promise of America for all Americans.”
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 2022 awards include:
KosherSoul : The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael Twitty
American Shtetl : The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York by Nomi M. Stolzenberg; Chosen : a memoir of stolen boyhood by Stephen Tukel Mills
The Escape Artist : The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland
Below are some recently published fiction and nonfiction titles (including biographies) available with your library card that highlight and speak to the Jewish experience throughout history. Also listed are DVDs and online resources.
The Best Strangers In The World: Stories From A Life Spent Listening by Ari Shapiro
In his first book, broadcaster Ari Shapiro takes us around the globe to reveal the stories behind narratives that are sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, but always poignant. He details his time traveling on Air Force One with President Obama, or following the path of Syrian refugees fleeing war, or learning from those fighting for social justice both at home and abroad. As the self-reinforcing bubbles we live in become more impenetrable, Ari Shapiro keeps seeking ways to help people listen to one another; to find connection and commonality with those who may seem different; to remind us that, before religion, or nationality, or politics, we are all human.
Bruno Schulz : An Artist, A Murder, And The Hijacking Of History by Benjamin Balint
A biography of the Polish-Jewish writer and artist includes an account of the discovery of his last artworks–murals painted on the walls of a villa occupied by a Nazi officer–sixty years after his death and the complicated political dispute over the ownership of the murals.
The Confidante : The Untold Story Of The Woman Who Helped Win WWII And Shape Modern America by Christopher C. Gorham
The first-ever biography of Anna Marie Rosenberg, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant who became a real power behind national policies critical to America winning World War II and prospering afterwards, chronicles her extraordinary career as FDR’s special envoy to Europe during the war and an adviser to five presidents.
Funny, You Don’t Look Funny : Judaism And Humor From The Silent Generation To Millennials by Jennifer Caplan
In this comprehensive approach to Jewish humor focused on the relationship between humor and American Jewish practice, Caplan calls us to adopt a more expansive view of what it means to “do Jewish,” revealing that American Jews have, and continue to, turn to humor as a cultural touchstone. Caplan frames the book around four generations of Jewish Americans from the Silent Generation to Millennials, highlighting a shift from the utilization of Jewish-specific markers to American-specific markers. By mapping humor onto both the generational identity of those making it and the use of Judaism within it, new insights about the development of American Judaism emerge.
Iconic New York Jewish Food : A History And Guide With Recipes by June Hersh
Cuisine brought to New York by Jewish immigrants more than a century ago has become some of the most iconic foods associated with the Big Apple. No trip to the five boroughs is complete without a hand-sliced pastrami sandwich at a classic delicatessen or a bagel and lox with a schmear of cream cheese from an artisanal bagel maker. Discover untold stories such as why Eleanor Roosevelt was intrigued by the knish and how Jewish mobsters plotted in the back rooms of some of Gotham’s most famous restaurants. Unearth the intrigue behind the frothy egg cream and creamy cheesecake or how Nathan Handwerker’s hot dog became top dog on Coney Island.
Impossible Takes Longer : 75 Years After Its Creation, Has Israel Fulfilled Its Founders’ Dreams? by Daniel Gordis
In 1948, Israel’s founders had much more in mind than the creation of a state. They sought not mere sovereignty but also a “national home for the Jewish people,” where Jewish life would be transformed. Did they succeed? The state they made, says Gordis, is a place of extraordinary success and maddening disappointment, a story of both unprecedented human triumph and great suffering. Now, as the country marks its seventy-fifth anniversary, Gordis asks: Has Israel fulfilled the dreams of its founders? Using Israel’s Declaration of Independence as his measure, Gordis provides a thorough, balanced perspective on how the Israel of today exceeds the country’s original aspirations and how it has fallen short.
In The Garden Of The Righteous: The Heroes Who Risked Their Lives To Save Jews During The Holocaust by Richard Hurowitz
These powerfully illuminating and inspiring profiles pay tribute to the incredible deeds of the Righteous Among the Nations, little-known heroes who saved countless lives during the Holocaust. Deeply researched and astonishingly moving, it focuses on ten remarkable stories, including that of the circus ringmaster Adolf Althoff and his wife Maria, the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Italian cycling champion Gino Bartali, the Polish social worker Irena Sendler, and the Japanese spy Chinue Sugihara, who provided hiding places, participated in underground networks, refused to betray their neighbors, and secured safe passage. They repeatedly defied authorities and risked their lives, their livelihoods, and their families to save the helpless and the persecuted.
Nakam : The Holocaust Survivors Who Sought Full-Scale Revenge by Dina Porat
The true story of a vigilante group of Holocaust survivors who conspired to kill six million Germans, Nakam tells the story of “the Avengers” (Nokmim), a group of young Holocaust survivors led by poet and resistance fighter Abba Kovner, who undertook a mission of revenge against Germany following the crimes of the Holocaust. These fifty young men and women sought retaliation at a level commensurate with the devastation caused by the Holocaust, making clear to the world that Jewish blood would no longer be shed with impunity. Had they been successful, they would have poisoned city water supplies and loaves of bread distributed to German POWs, with the aim of killing six million Germans. Kovner and his followers went to great lengths to carry out their plans, going so far as to obtain the plans for Nuremberg’s municipal water system, secure large quantities of poison, infiltrate a POW camp and the bakery that supplied it, and distribute poisoned bread to prisoners – but their plots were ultimately stymied.
Unearthed : A Lost Actress, A Forbidden Book, And A Search For Life In The Shadow Of The Holocaust by Meryl Frank
In this mystery woven into a family memoir and a timely history of hatred and resistance, the author seeks the truth about her cousin, a star of Vilna’s Yiddish theater before WWII, as well as the answer to the question of how the next generation should honor the memory of the Holocaust.
The Watchmaker’s Daughter: The True Story Of World War II Heroine Corrie Ten Boom by Larry Loftis
The remarkable and inspiring life story of Corrie ten Boom—a groundbreaking, female Dutch watchmaker, whose family unselfishly transformed their house into a hiding place straight out of a spy novel to shelter Jews and refugees from the Nazis during Gestapo raids. Even though the Nazis knew what the ten Booms were up to, they were never able to find those sheltered within the house when they raided it. Corrie stopped at nothing to face down the evils of her time and overcame unbelievable obstacles and odds. She persevered despite the loss of most of her family and relied on her faith to survive the horrors of a notorious concentration camp. But even more remarkable than her heroism and survival was Corrie’s attitude when she was released. Miraculously, she was able to eschew bitterness and embrace forgiveness as she ministered to people in need around the globe.
Zelda Popkin : The Life And Times Of An American Jewish Woman Writer by Jeremy D. Popkin
Zelda Popkin lived and wrote through all the great changes of American Jewish women’s lives in the 20th century: the reaction against religious tradition, women’s emancipation, struggles against antisemitism, the impact of the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, and the upsurge of Jewish identity in the 1960s.
Code Name Sapphire: A World War 2 Novel by Pam Jenoff
Hannah Martel has narrowly escaped Nazi Germany after her fiance was killed in a pogrom. When her ship bound for America is turned away at port, she has nowhere to go but to her cousin Lily, who lives with her family in Brussels. Fearful for her life, Hannah is desperate to get out of occupied Europe. But with no safe way to leave, she must return to the dangerous underground work she thought she had left behind.
Death Of A Dancing Queen : A Billie Levine Novel by Kimberly G. Giarratano
After her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Billie Levine revamped her grandfather’s private investigation firm and set up shop in the corner booth of her favorite North Jersey deli hoping the free pickles and flexible hours would allow her to take care of her mom and pay the bills. So when Tommy Russo, a rich kid with a nasty drug habit, offers her a stack of cash to find his missing girlfriend, how can she refuse? At first, Billie thinks this will be easy earnings, but then her missing person’s case turns into a murder investigation and Russo is the detective bureau’s number one suspect. Suddenly Billie is embroiled in a deadly gang war that’s connected to the decades-old disappearance of a famous cabaret dancer with ties to both an infamous Jewish mob and a skinhead group. Toss in the reappearance of Billie’s hunky ex-boyfriend with his own rap sheet, and she is regretting every decision that got her to this point.
The Dutch Orphan by Ellen Keith
When the Nazis invade Amsterdam, singer Johanna Vos watches in horror as the vibrant music scene she loves is all but erased, her Jewish friends forbidden from performing with her onstage. Alongside her friend Jakob, Johanna helps organize the Artists’ Resistance, an underground network allowing Jews to perform at house concerts hosted by their allies. When Johanna hears of a Jewish orphan headed for deportation, she does not think twice. She takes the baby in as her own, hiding the truth from even her own sister, Liesbeth. Meanwhile, Liesbeth finds herself in a dilemma, as she knows of her sister’s staunch support for the Resistance, but her husband supports the Nazis. When a charming member of the Dutch Fascist Party sets his eyes on her, her predicament only deepens. As secrets continue to grow between the sisters, severing their once-unbreakable bond, they are both forced to make choices that will alter their lives forever.
The Family Morfawitz by Daniel H. Turtel
When Hadassah Morfawitz flees Nazi Germany with her siblings and arrives in New York, she is determined to turn the city into her own Mount Olympus, at any cost. This is her ruthless journey to high society.
Künstlers In Paradise by Cathleen Schine
There was a time when the family Künstler lived in the fairy-tale city of Vienna. Circumstances transformed that fairy tale into a nightmare, and in 1939 the Künstlers found their way out of Vienna and into a new fairy tale: Los Angeles, California, United States of America. An ill-timed visit forces twentysomething New Yorker Julian to shelter in place in Venice Beach with his glamorous and eccentric ninety-three-year-old grandmother, Mamie Künstler, and her inscrutable housekeeper. To pass the time, Mamie regales Julian with stories of her adolescent adventures among the émigré elite, from tennis lessons with Arnold Schoenberg to a romance with Greta Garbo. During his unexpected extended stay in his grandmother’s crumbling domain, Julian undergoes his own personal quest as he reckons with the trajectory of the life he thought he wanted and what role he will choose to play in it all.
Night Angels : A Novel by Weina Dai Randel
In 1938, Dr. Ho Fengshan, consul general of China posted in Vienna, whose instructions are to maintain amicable relations with the Third Reich, risks his life, along with his American wife, to help Viennese Jews escape the Nazis before World War II explodes.
The Promise Of A Normal Life : A Novel by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson
The unnamed narrator is a fiercely observant, introverted Jewish-American girl who seems to exist in a private and separate realm. She’s the child of a first-generation doctor and lawyer–whose own stories have the loud grandeur of family legend–in an America where Jews are excluded from the country club across the street. Her expectations for adulthood are often contradictory. In the changing landscape of the 1960s, she attempts to find her way through the rituals of life, her geography expanding across the country, across the ocean, and into multiple nations.
To Die Beautiful : A Novel by Buzzy Jackson
A gripping and timely debut novel based on a true story of the life of the heroic Hannie Schaft: a young Dutch woman who joined the Resistance in Holland during World War II and became one of the Nazis’ most lethal adversaries. Hannie Schaft, a young woman living in Nazi-occupied Holland, never intended to be a fighter. Her dream was to finish law school in Amsterdam and join the League of Nations. But when Hannie’s two Jewish best friends are in danger, and she crosses paths with Resistance recruiters while doing volunteer work with refugees, she realizes she cannot deny the urgent cause at hand and the changes happening around her. Driven by outrage and a fierce protectiveness for her friends, Hannie quickly becomes a valued member of the Resistance movement. As the simmering menace of Nazi-occupied Holland reaches a boiling point, Hannie becomes ever more daring, assassinating powerful Nazis point blank, blowing up munitions factories, and constantly improvising with last-minute Resistance orders, even getting Hitler’s notice who dubs her “the Girl with Red Hair.”
Chronicles the 350 year saga of immigrants who gradually wove themselves into the fabric of American life without abandoning their traditions.
Discusses the history of Jewish immigration to the United States throughout the centuries.
The Jewish People: A Story Of Survival
This is the story of Jewish survival. From slavery to the loss of their homeland; from exile to anti-Semitism; from pogroms to near annihilation in the Holocaust, they managed to endure while so many communities have vanished. Spanning millennia, this history of the Jewish people explores how a small group who started as desert nomads overcame countless obstacles to survive to the present day.
Simon Schama presents this epic series exploring the extraordinary story of the Jewish experience from ancient times to the present day. Both deeply historical and utterly contemporary, this is a compelling film about distinctiveness and difference, separation and isolation, tolerance and prejudice. It is also a celebration of the ways in which Jewish thought, imagination, and achievement have transformed the world for us all.
Kanopy, available with your Livingston Library card, has several films / documentaries on Jewish Americans, Jewish history, and cinema.
The Jewish History Resource Center
-Archana Chiplunkar, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian