The Holy Days are barely behind us, and we’re already preparing for Hanukkah (the first day of which, as some have realized, coincides with American Thanksgiving this year). But between these events comes something else that should be on your calendar: Jewish Book Month.
Running this year from October 26 to November 26, Jewish Book Month is associated most visibly with the New York-based Jewish Book Council. Many of the author visits to North American synagogues and Jewish community centers that are highlights of local Jewish book festivals occur during this time period. Check this list of sites associated with the Jewish Book Council to see what may be planned during Jewish Book Month in your area.
But whether you’re in New York or New Zealand, you can find ways to appreciate the richness and diversity of Jewish books and writing over the next month. Here are 10 suggestions:
1) New York’s 92nd Street Y will host the East Coast premiere of “Saffron and Rosewater: Songs and Stories from Persian Jewish Women” (November 23). The performance is adapted from work by Gina Nahai, Angella Nazarian, Farideh Goldin, Dora Levy Mossanen, Esther Amini and composer Niki Black. The writers will participate in a Q&A following the performance.
The Jewish Book Council has named the five finalists of this year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the Forward has learned. Carolyn Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council, told the Forward that the five finalists are Sarah Bunin Benor for “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism”; Matti Friedman for “The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books”; Nina S. Spiegel for “Embodying Hebrew Culture: Aesthetics, Athletics, and Dance in the Jewish Community of Mandate Palestine”; Eliyahu Stern for “The Genius: Elija of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism” and Marni Davis for “Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition.”
The $100,000 prize, the largest of its kind in the world, will be given in 2014. Last year the award was given to Francesca Segal for her novel “The Innocents” and two years ago was given to Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman for “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle To Save Soviet Jewry.” Administered by the Jewish Book Council, The Rohr Prize recognizes emerging writers who examine the Jewish experience. It is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years.
The award also includes a $25,000 runner-up, who will receive the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Choice Award. All finalists become members in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute, which conducts annual gatherings of all winners, finalists, judges and advisors.
The award, worth $100,000, is one of the largest literary prizes in the world and is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years. This year’s runner-up, who receives $25,000, is Ben Lerner for his novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station.” Other finalists included Shani Boianjiu for “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid,” Stuart Nadler for “The Book of Life,” and Asaf Schurr for “Motti.”
Inspired by Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence,” Segal’s book examines the upper-class Jewish community of North West London. The novel is being adapted into a TV show in the U.K. by Carnival Films, the company that produces “Downton Abbey.”
Founded in 2006, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature “honors the contribution of contemporary writers in the exploration and transmission of Jewish values and is intended to encourage and promote outstanding writing of Jewish interest in the future.” Last year Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman was awarded the prize for his book, “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle To Save Soviet Jewry.”
The Jewish Book Council has announced this year’s winners of its National Jewish Book Award. The award is given in 18 categories, including a lifetime achievement award, which this year went to Eric R. Kandel, who was also a 2000 Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology or Medicine.
Other winners include Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy for their anthology “Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame”; Gerald Sorin for his biography “Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane,” and Francesca Segal for her novel, “The Innocents.” The Jewish Book of the Year Award was given to “City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York” edited by Deborah Dash Moore, while Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was honored with the nonfiction award in Modern Jewish Thought and Experience for his edition of the Talmud, published by Koren.
The winners will be honored at a gala on March 14, at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. Read the full list of winners and finalists here.
Earlier this week, Leslie Maitland wrote about reconnecting branches of her family separated by the Diaspora of the Nazi years. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I would not be writing this today but for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, nor could I have written my newly published book, Crossing the Borders of Time. Indeed, but for the dedicated mission of “the Joint” to save imperiled Jews from murder in the Holocaust, I would not be here at all.
It was thanks to the Joint and cooperating agencies that my mother made an eleventh-hour escape from France in 1942 before the Nazis seized the country and sealed its ports. Like thousands of other Jewish refugees, she and her family fled to safety on ships chartered by the Joint from neutral Portugal. There were more than four hundred passengers with her on the Lipari, leaving from Marseille to Casablanca, where they transferred to a freighter, the San Thomé, for a voyage that lasted almost two months before the ship was cleared to land in Havana.
The Joint was a curious name I heard often throughout my childhood, eavesdropping on adult conversation in New York’s German-Jewish refugee community—the so-called Fourth Reich—where I was born and lived until the age of nine. (“What joint?” I remember asking, surprised to hear my very formal German grandfather speaking what sounded to me like slang.) But my understanding and appreciation of the humanitarian agency’s vital role in saving European Jews from Hitler grew exponentially as a result of my research into my mother’s story of persecution, romance in wartime, and escape.
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