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Judi's Journal 12-2-2011

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In honor of Jewish Book Month

By Judi Siegal

Jews have been called the People of the Book for centuries. Actually we could be called the people of the books since we are forever preoccupied with texts. In fact, Judaism is a text-based religion with its emphasis on the Torah, Prophets, Writings, Talmud and all the commentaries.
With all the attention given to books, it is no wonder that Jews have set aside a whole month to highlight and promote writings of Jewish interest and/or by Jewish authors.
Actually it was a librarian at the Boston Public Library who came up with the idea.
In 1925, Fanny Goldstein set up an exhibit at the library to promote Jewish books, similar to the displays we have here in our libraries that focus on timely monthly topics. The display was to focus on what she called Jewish Book Week. The idea caught the attention of Rabbi S. Felix Mendelsohn of Chicago and in 1927, with the rabbi’s help, the idea spread throughout American communities. For the first 15 years of its existence, the festival coincided with Lag B’Omer, which is a holiday that fittingly, honors scholars.
In 1940, the event date was changed to the days and weeks preceding Chanukah so that people would be encouraged to buy books as gifts for the holiday. Jewish Book Week became so popular that in 1943, the event was lengthened to a whole month instead of just one week.
Today, the popular event is celebrated with book readings and signings by authors, meet the author teas and other events dedicated to books and Jewish scholarship.
The festival is sponsored by the Jewish Book Council. (wwwjewishbookcouncil.org)
The exact date varies because of the nature of the Jewish calendar but it is always the month before Chanukah, typically mid November or so till the middle of December.
There are many Jewish books and authors to choose from and I offer a few that are classic in nature:
Chaim Potok (The Chosen) Elie Wiesel (Night) Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman) Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique) Abraham Sacher (History of the Jews) Theodore White (won a Pulitzer for general non-fiction) Dennis Prager (Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism) Herman Wouk (This Is My God) Philip Roth (Good bye, Columbus) Leon Uris (Exodus) and I.B. Singer and Saul Bellow who both won Nobel prizes.
More recent novelists include Michael Chabon, Nicole Krauss, Naomi Ragen and Dara Horn whose novel All Other Nights concerned a Jewish soldier during the Civil War.
The themes of Jewish novels are varied. Many rail against their Jewish backgrounds such as in Marjorie Morningstar while others give us a glimpse into the life of the very observant such as in Naomi Ragen’s works.
Still others tell of the days of the European shetls and the life of the Jews in Eastern Europe pre-World War II. And the topic of the Holocaust is well represented with the novels and fiction cum real-life experiences of Elie Wiesel.
Other topics include assimilation into the American milieu, Zionism, religion, politics and social issues.
And, of course, there are many books written on Jewish history, peoplehood and traditions from the most observant to the very liberal.
Whether you go on line, visit the library or use an electronic reader, you are bound to find a Jewish book to spark your interest. And you have a whole month to enjoy!
(Jewish Book Month is observed in 2011 from Nov. 21 to s Dec. 21.)