This week we kick off Jewish American Heritage Month. President Biden has proclaimed this month as one in which “we celebrate the enduring heritage of Jewish Americans, whose values, culture, and contributions have shaped our character as a Nation.”
There are all sorts of ways to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month (#JAHM) and you can find resources and learn more at the Weitzman National Museum of America Jewish History’s resource page here.
Me being me, I thought this would be a good time to highlight a few of the books that I’ve been reading and talking about that celebrate American Jewish literature, culture and history:
Kosher Soul, by Michael W. Twitty (2022).
The second volume in an anticipated trilogy of biographical journeys through food. In this volume the author explores the intersection of the African Atlantic and Jewish diasporic culinary cultures. It’s great, it is personal, and he invites us to think more expansively about Jewish cultural creation.
Bad Jews: A History of American Jewish Politics and Identities, by Emily Tamkin (2022).
The author explores the history of internal Jewish American conflict over what and who is a good Jew. I found myself taking notes, arguing with the author in my head, and just listening to what she was conveying. I would love to have a conversation with her, and with anyone else who has read this. Bonus: her grandfather served as a policy committee chair and leader for Boston JCRC back in the 1950’s and 60’s. Highly recommend.
Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems, Library of America (2005).
No list by me that celebrates the Jewish contributions to our nation would be complete with mentioning “The first important American Jewish poet” (I would argue ‘the most important’). This is a wide-ranging collection, from her translations of medieval Jewish poets like Solomon Ibn Gabirol and Judah ha-Levi, to her explorations of Jewish heritage in “1492”, and of course her classic, “The New Colossus.”
Novels and Stories of the 1970’s & 80s, Bernard Malamud (2023).
Speaking of the Library of America (of which I am a patron), this year they issued their third and final volume of his collected works. This volume includes three novels that capped his Pulitzer Prize winning career, giving voice to the experiences and perspectives of New York’s Jewish immigrants of his time, and creating a wide-ranging legacy. The collection also includes one of the great American baseball novels (The Natural, in the first volume of this trilogy).
Smahtguy: The Life and Times of Barney Frank, by Eric Orner (2022).
This graphic form biography is a lovely and fun retelling of the rise and impact of Boston’s longtime member of Congress. It’s about how a Jewish kid from New Jersey came to Harvard, worked as a young aide in Boston City Hall, ran for State Rep, then Congress, became a Gay icon, and had a huge impact of some of the major legislative debates of the past few decades. Bonus: Look for mentions of a certain former JCRC President who was also an aide to then Mayor Kevin White (and who would be a close political ally and friend to Barney).
By now it is commonly known how deep and broad the impact of Jewish artists was on the establishment of the now multi-billion comics industry. Last year, Marvel Comics teamed up with Penguin to begin re-issuing collected volumes of some of the great early comics in this line of literary classics – along with supporting essays and commentary. So why not celebrate this month with the original “superhero punching Hitler” cover story that introduced a new hero to our nation in 1941, before the United States even went to war against the Nazis?
These are just some of the books that I’ve appreciated, loved, and am sharing as I mark Jewish American Heritage Month. I’d love to hear from you about how you are celebrating #JAHM.