Navigate to News section

Overdue Library Book Identified after 86 Years

Louise Sylvia Katz checked out Ludwig Lewisohn’s Israel in 1928

Isabel Fattal
July 11, 2014

You know that book that you’ve owed the library forever that you’re assuming no one will find out about? Louise Sylvia Katz probably thought the same thing—but now, 86 years later, discoveries are still being made around her tiny indiscretion.

According to Gothamist, when 97 Orchard Street was being turned into the Tenement Museum in the late 1980s, an overdue slip from Seward Park Library was found in one of the mailboxes. The slip, addressed in 1928 to Katz, a former resident of the building, is now on display in the Sweatshop Workers Tour at the Tenement Museum.

But the title of the book, written in nearly indecipherable cursive, had long been a mystery—until this week. Gothamist posted a photo of the slip on Twitter, and the book was soon identified by the library as Israel, author and translator Ludwig Lewisohn’s 1925 analysis of Jewish life and Zionism.

Josh Lambert, writing about Lewisohn’s life and work for Tablet in 2008, described the origins and impact of the book:

Crucially, Lewisohn had cottoned to the message of jurist Louis Brandeis, who wrote “To be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists.” By 1917, Brandeis had been appointed to the Supreme Court and the American Zionist movement numbered two hundred thousand adherents. Addressing this audience as well as the assimilationists who rejected Zionism, Lewisohn offered up a travelogue-cum-exhortation, Israel (1925), which insisted “assimilation is impossible. . . even for America,” lamented the rise of anti-Semites such as Adolf Hitler, and advocated the “upbuilding of Palestine” as a Jewish homeland with “bilingual—Hebrew and English” education. The book sold ten thousand copies within months, embraced by Zionists not only in the U.S., but also among the settlers in Palestine.

No word on what the overdue fee was.

Previous: Unlucky Ludwig
Related: Comeback Kid

Isabel Fattal, a former intern at Tablet Magazine, attends Wesleyan University.