The Arty Semite

10 Ways to Celebrate Jewish Book Month

By Erika Dreifus

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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.

2) This November marks the 75th anniversary of both the killing of Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris and the ensuing Kristallnacht that began two days later. Jonathan Kirsch’s latest book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan,” is a biography of the Polish-born Jew who shot vom Rath. Kirsch will discuss the book with his son, the literary critic and journalist Adam Kirsch, on November 11 in New York. For tickets and further information, contact the Center for Jewish History.

3) Also in New York: The Jewish Museum presents “Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix: A Retrospective,” what the museum describes as the “first U.S. retrospective celebrat[ing] the career of one of the most influential living comic artists.” Opening November 8, the exhibition is complemented by an array of gallery talks and other programs, including a discussion on “issues of authorship and identity” between Spiegelman and playwright Tony Kushner and a workshop for educators on “literacy and the graphic novel” that will focus on the legacy of Spiegelman’s “Maus.”

4) Also at The Jewish Museum: The winners of the annual Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Short Fiction contest will read from their winning stories on Thursday, November 14. Bonus: The evening’s program also features acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates in conversation with Moment’s fiction editor, Alan Cheuse.

5) Speaking of contests, timely opportunities are available for the very newest Jewish writing. Poets might take note of The Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. Recognizing unpublished work “on the Jewish experience,” this year’s competition is sponsored by Poetica Magazine, Contemporary Jewish Writing. There’s no entry fee, postmark deadline is November 15 and prize money of $3,000 will be distributed between winners and honorable mentions.

Also open for entries (and remaining so until January 14, 2014): Jewish Currents magazine’s Second Annual Raynes Poetry Contest. This year’s competition seeks poems on the theme of “Union” and will be judged by Joan Larkin. There’s a submission fee of $18, which includes a subscription or gift subscription to Jewish Currents. The contest awards a $1,000 first prize and $180 second and third prizes. The top 36 poems will be published in an anthology.

And for aspiring authors of young-adult or middle-grade novels, The Whole Megillah is hosting its annual “Write Your Own Megillah” event, encouraging writers to use Jewish Book Month to set down an entire novel’s worth of words. No cash prizes for this one, but The Whole Megillah’s Barbara Krasner will offer critiques to the winners.

6) Even if you’re not in New York (or any other American city), there are plenty of ways to celebrate Jewish books. For example, the Jewish Book Carnival, organized by the Association of Jewish Libraries, takes place monthly. Bloggers who write about Jewish books pool selected posts and read and comment on what others have written. Each month’s Carnival is hosted by another blogger and is posted mid-month; expect the November Carnival to post on November 15. New readers (and bloggers) are always welcome.

7) Also accessible to everyone with an Internet connection: audio recordings from the 2013 Jewish Book Week festival in London. Sample programming includes Israeli author Shani Boianjiu discussing her debut book “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid”; American short story writer Edith Pearlman presenting her much-lauded story collection “Binocular Vision”; and Francesca Segal and Jami Attenberg talking about their respective novels “The Innocents” and “The Middlesteins.” (Videos from previous festivals are also online.)

8) If Yiddish books are a special interest, you may want to explore a series of offerings from the Yiddish Book Center: the center’s podcast, its Sami Rohr Library of Recorded Jewish Books, and its Frances Brandt Online Yiddish Audio Library.

9) As for books from Israel, the CultureBuzz Hebrew Writers-Readers’ Series presents brief videos that feature Israeli authors — Etgar Keret, Amos Oz, Gail Hareven and many others — reading short excerpts from their work in Hebrew. English subtitles are provided.

10) Remember, too, that it’s never too late for families to take advantage of the PJ Library, “a Jewish family engagement program implemented on a local level throughout North America.” Subscriber families receive free, high-quality Jewish children’s books and music each month. “All families raising Jewish children” (ages six months through 5-8 years, depending on the community), are welcome to subscribe. Note that free Hebrew-language children’s books are available to Israeli families living in the U.S. through a similar program, Sifriyat Pijama B’America.

Happy Jewish Book Month — and happy reading!

Erika Dreifus, author of Quiet Americans: Stories, writes frequently about Jewish books. Visit her at erikadreifus.com and follow her on Twitter, @erikadreifus.


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