Jewish Book Month, a 90-year tradition run by the Jewish Book Council, kicked off last week and will run through December 6. The annual event, which serves as a promotion of sorts for Jewish authors and books, will be celebrated across this vast continent, from Los Angeles to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Boca Raton. But it wasn’t always a month-long endeavor.
The tradition began in 1925 when a Boston librarian by the name of Fanny Goldstein decided to set up a display of Judaic books at the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library for one week and call it (what else?) “Jewish Book Week.” And voila, just like that the week caught on; in 1943 it was extended to a month. Soon thereafter, a council was created to produce the event.
“I think she would be overjoyed to see what it’s become,” said Naomi Firestone-Teeter, executive director at the Jewish Book Council. “[Goldstein produced] a little seed, a spark that developed into a full-fledged organization,” said Firestone-Teeter.
A far cry from its humble beginnings, Jewish Book Month now boasts a rich repertoire of events, with numerous Jewish authors speaking at literary shpiels around the country and a National Jewish Book Club Kit, which includes everything necessary to host a book club event. The Jewish Book Council has also unveiled the now-digital archives of their Jewish Book Annual, which the Council published in print from 1942 to 1999.
The Jewish Book Council will also post a video of an author answering questions on its Facebook page a campaign called “30 days, 30 authors.” Some featured authors include Anna Diamant (The Red Tent), Shulem Deen (All Who Go Do Not Return), Ayelet Waldman (Daughter’s Keeper), and Etgar Keret (The Seven Good Years).
Which begs the question: After more than 90 years, what exactly is Jewish literature? “The books don’t necessarily have Jewish themes,” Firestone-Teeter said, “but they’re written with a Jewish soul, a Jewish lens.”
She mused, “I was looking back at the [Jewish Book Annuals], and in the first issues, they were writing about how people aren’t reading Jewish books, how they’re assimilating and becoming Americanized. It’s interesting because we’re having the same conversation today. And look—we’re still here.”
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Tess Cutler is an intern at Tablet.