As a librarian and a Jewish parent, I regularly see three types of books displayed during Jewish American Heritage Month—holiday books, Holocaust books, and Israel-related books. Yet there is much more to the American Jewish experience than these three tropes. Exploring books about Jews in the Diverse BookFinder database reveals four new ways to celebrate the multiplicity of Jews and Jewish heritage this month.
Racial and Cultural Diversity
Several books in the collection, like Rebecca’s Journey Home, highlight racial and cultural diversity within the Jewish community. This diversity can come from blended families, as in Fridays are Special or Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas. Or it can reveal Jewish communities outside of Europe not often discussed, such as the Ethiopian Jewish community of Yosef’s Dream.
Mr. and Mrs. Stein and their young sons Gabe and Jacob adopt a baby girl from Vietnam
A boy is worried that his little sister's climbing will spoil the first night of Hanukkah, when his family combines his father's Jewish traditions with his mother's East Indian cooking
Now a young man in Israel, watching his brother's Bar Mitzvah, Yosef remembers his own childhood in Ethiopia. Specifically, the dream in which he foresaw the miraculous air rescue of Operation Solomon in 1991, which led to the fulfillment of his own family's dream to live in Israel -- land of their forefathers.
Standing Up for Freedom and Equality
Did you know that some American Jews were active in the Civil Rights movement? Or the Abolitionist movement? Books like The Most Magnificent Mosque and The Legend of Freedom Hill can spark conversations about the history of American Jews standing up for freedom and equality.
"When a new Christian king decides to pull down the beautiful Mosque of Cordoba, three old friends decide something must be done on behalf of all the citizens, whether Moslem, Jew or Christian"--Back cover
During the California Gold Rush Rosabel, an African American, and Sophie, a Jew, team up and search for gold to buy Rosabel's mother her freedom from a slave catcher
Celebrating Differences and Commonalities
Cross Group books in the collection showcase Jews celebrating differences and commonalities with members of other communities. Two friends Marcus and Liang in Shanghai Sukkot share holiday celebrations and explore each other’s traditions. A Hat for Mrs. Goldman highlights friendships between people of different generations and faiths. And Sharing Our Homeland examines Israeli Jewish and Palestinian children working toward peace through communication and respect in “Peace Camp”.
To escape the Nazis, a young Jewish boy named Marcus and his family move to Shanghai, where Marcus and his new friend Liang build a sukkah on the roof and together they celebrate Sukkot and the Chinese Moon Festival
"Photo-essay focusing on two Israeli children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who, in spite of their differences and the longstanding conflicts in the region, learn to play, work, and share ideas together at Summer Peace Camp, a day camp located in Israel. Includes glossary, map, and resources for readers"--Provided by publisher
Sophia knits a special hat for her elderly neighbor and knitting teacher, Mrs. Goldman
Doing the Everyday Work of Childhood
Finally, it’s useful to explore books where Jewish children are performing the everyday actions of childhood, providing windows and mirrors of ordinary Jews to help depict the full humanity of the American Jewish experience. Jews do not only exist historically in difficult circumstances (the Holocaust) or at certain times of the year (holiday celebrations). Instead, they might go to camp (No Baths at Camp) or play baseball (Across the Alley); they might even be anticipating having new siblings (Room for the Baby).
Hoping to avoid taking a bath, Max tells his mother about camp, where cleanliness comes from swimming and water balloon fights until Friday evening, when each camper takes a shower to prepare for Shabbat
A little boy frets that the sewing room where his baby brother or sister will sleep will never be emptied of things his mother has collected from neighbors for years, but she uses those things to sew and knit everything from diapers to Hannukah gifts
Jewish Abe's grandfather wants him to be a violinist while African-American Willie's father plans for him to be a great baseball pitcher, but it turns out that the two boys are more talented when they switch hobbies
I hope this brief survey has given you some new ideas for how to depict the Jewish experience during American Jewish History Month. Please feel free to explore the Diverse BookFinder database for more resources for display and conversation!
Deborah Tomaras is a cataloger and consultant/advisory council member for Diverse BookFinder.