On April 20, 2006, President George W. Bush proclaimed the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), celebrating the contributions made by American Jews to our nation’s cultural identity, history, and society.  

Why May?

In 1654, Jews arrived in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam in New York, marking their first known migration to North America.  May was chosen for JAHM due to the widely successful celebration of the 350th Anniversary of American Jewish History in May 2004.  The commission that organized this event consisted of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, the American Jewish Historical Society, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration.  These groups aimed to honor the contributions and achievements of Jewish Americans throughout history.

Celebrate with Us!

Celebrate this month with Charles County Public Library by checking out our collection and finding some great reads in honor of the writers, poets, and historical figures that defined JAHM.  This list is just a fraction of what we have on our shelves, and we are sure our librarians will have some great suggestions to recommend the next time you visit one of our branches!

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 

A timeless story that stands without peer, this definitive edition brings to life the world of a brilliant young girl who, for a time, survived the worst horrors the modern world has ever seen – and who remained triumphantly and heartbreakingly human throughout her ordeal.

From Novelist

It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories Edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman 

From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be.

From Novelist

Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander

Larry is an atheist in a family of orthodox Memphis Jews. When his father dies, it is his responsibility as the surviving son to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, every day for eleven months. To the horror and dismay of his mother and sisters, Larry refuses – thus imperiling the fate of his father’s soul. To appease them, and in penance for failing to mourn his father correctly, he hatches an ingenious, if cynical, plan – hiring a stranger through a website called Kaddish.com to recite the daily prayer and shepherd his father’s soul safely to rest. This is Nathan Englander’s freshest and funniest work to date – a satire that touches, lightly and with unforgettable humor, on the conflict between religious and secular worlds, and the hypocrisies that run through both. A novel about atonement, about spiritual redemption, and about the soul-sickening temptations of the internet, which, like God, is everywhere.

From Cosmos

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro 

The acclaimed and beloved author of Hourglass now gives us a new memoir about identity, paternity, and family secrets – a real-time exploration of the staggering discovery she made last year about her father, and her struggle to piece together the hidden the story of her own life.

From Cosmos

Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis

American Israeli author (The Promise of Israel) and scholar (senior vice president, Koret Distinguished Fellow, Shalem Coll., Jerusalem) Gordis derives a relatively brief history of Israel and Zionism from hundreds of previously published histories, biographies, memoirs, and journalistic works. The author mines sources, which include interviews with contemporary Israelis, for details of the major events of Jewish history from 2000 BCE to the present day in an effort to inform readers how the modern State of Israel came into being and how the country developed its political stances. Gordis largely succeeds in introducing Israel to those recently taking an interest, offering footnotes and glossaries to define or explain important people, places, and institutions. An excellent introduction for anyone with a new or ongoing interest in Israel. 

From Library Journal

One Candle by Eve Bunting 

Every year a family celebrates Hanukkah by retelling the story of how Grandma and her sister managed to mark the day while in a German concentration camp.

From Cosmos

Maus by Art Spiegelman 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us. 

From Novelist

Tia Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey by Ruth Behar 

Young Estrella’s Tía Fortuna is no stranger to moving, thanks to Cuban roots and her Sephardic family’s voyage from Spain to Turkey to Cuba to Miami. Through the curious and poignant perspective of a child, Behar’s story follows Tía Fortuna’s latest move from her beautiful pink casita in the Seaway, her longtime apartment building, to an assisted-living facility. Eloquent multilingual storytelling couples with peaceful artwork as Estrella learns that change can be OK and that keeping your traditions and culture alive is even more important.

From Booklist

The Chosen by Chaim Potok 

Chaim Potok’s debut novel The Chosen, is a classic tale of two Orthodox Jewish softball players, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders, who live less than five blocks apart in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Reuven and Danny both wear yarmulkes, but Danny also wears the religious attire of his Hasidic community. Their sports rivalry symbolizes their religious contrast.

Through the lens of their unlikely friendship and each boy’s relationship with his father, the book explores issues of identity, religiosity, friendship, Zionism, and the Talmud against the backdrop of the years between the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel.

By the American Jewish Committee

 Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Lesléa Newman 

Nine-year-old Gittel is alone on a ship to America after her mother’s eye infection causes a health inspector to refuse the woman passage. Finding comfort in Basha, a favorite rag doll, Mama’s candlesticks, and some children on board, Gittel finally steps foot on Ellis Island only to learn that the precious folded paper with cousin Mendel’s address is watermarked and illegible. Not even knowing Mendel’s last name, the girl feels that her situation is hopeless until a kindly Yiddish interpreter comes up with the perfect solution.

By School Library Journal