Jewish American Heritage Month, 2019: A Reading List

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. To celebrate the rich history and legacy of American Jews, we’ve put together a reading list for the month of May featuring biographies and memoirs of American Jews and their communities, as well as studies of the history, sociology, and perception of Jews in America.

Biography & Memoir

Through the story of his Russian–Jewish parents’ arrival and in the Mississippi region, the author reveals the experience of the Jewish community in Hattiesburg from the 1920s through the 1960s, as it goes through times of prosperity but also faces the dangers of anti-Semitism. The story starts with the author’s father arriving in 1924 to become a peddler and then a merchant, joined by his mother in 1925, and follows the author himself as he searches into the history of his parents and the Jewish community, as well as a variety of its members: a young Jewish man who is tried and convicted of murder; Arthur Brodey, a Reform rabbi who gains wider acceptance for the congregation; Charles Mantinband, a rabbi whose civil rights activities won national recognition but stirred fears of Klan violence in his congregation; and Waldoff’s brother-in-law “B” Botnick of the Anti-Defamation League, whose work made him a target of assassin Byron de la Beckwith.

This book brings together a lifetime of experiences told by a beloved member of the field of Slavic languages and literature—Irwin Weil. During the Soviet era, Irwin frequently visited and corresponded with outstanding Russian cultural figures, such as Vladimir Nabokov, Korney Chukovsky, and Dmitrii Shostakovich.  His deep love of the Russian people and their culture has touched the lives of countless students, in particular at Northwestern University, where he has taught since 1966.  It is these stories of an unassuming Jewish American from Cincinnati, Ohio who rubbed shoulders with some of the most prominent thinkers, writers, and musicians in the Soviet Union that are presented for the first time in this volume.

American Jewish Studies

Sixteen senior scholars of American Jewish history—among the men and women whose work and advocacy have moved their discipline into the mainstream of academia—converse on the intellectual and personal roads they have traveled in becoming leaders in their areas of expertise. Through their thoughtful and candid recollections of the challenges they faced in becoming accepted academics, they retell the story of how the study of the Jews and Judaism in the United States rose from being long dismissed as an amateurish enterprise not worthy of serious consideration in the world of ideas to its position today as a respected field in communication with all humanities scholars. They also imagine and chart the direction the writing on American Jews will take in the coming era.

After Adolph Ochs purchased The New York Times in 1896, Zionism and the eventual reality of the State of Israel were framed within his guiding principle, embraced by his Sulzberger family successor, that Judaism is a religion and not a national identity. Apprehensive lest the loyalty of American Jews to the United States be undermined by the existence of a Jewish state, they adopted an anti-Zionist critique that remained embedded in its editorials, on the Opinion page and in its news coverage. Through the examination of evidence drawn from its own pages, this book analyzes how all the news “fit to print” became news that fit the Times’ discomfort with the idea, and since 1948 the reality, of a thriving democratic Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.