After the successful celebration of the 350th Anniversary of American Jewish History in May 2004, the Jewish Museum of Florida and prominent Jewish leaders in South Florida urged President Bush to name the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month. In May 2006, the first Jewish American Heritage Month was celebrated, honoring the centuries of Jewish impact in America.
There is a myriad of ways that Jewish Americans have contributed to the United States. Below I’ve compiled a small selection of books to enjoy that acknowledge some of those contributions, whether you want to get lost in a story, experiment in the kitchen, or learn something new.
“Florence, the 20-year-old daughter of Jewish bakery owners Esther and Joseph Adler, starts the summer of 1934 training for an upcoming trip to France to swim the English Channel. When Florence’s life is cut short in tragedy, Esther and Joseph keep her death quiet from their eldest daughter, Fannie, who waits out a high-risk pregnancy in the hospital. Protecting the baby becomes paramount. While Fannie’s husband, Isaac, swindles away funds in real estate schemes, their young daughter Gussie, unable to grasp the reason behind the lie, mourns the loss of her beloved aunt and misses her mother. Gussie finds comfort in Anna, a young German girl mysteriously living with the Adlers, and Stuart, Flossie’s swim coach and admirer. Stuart, a handsome lifeguard and son of the elite Covington hotel owner, begins clandestine swimming lessons with Anna, growing closer as they also grieve for Florence. As the secrets threaten to spill and heartbreak blankets them, the family must unite to face a future without Florence.”
“Set against the backdrop of the Clinton and Lewinsky scandal, My Last Innocent Year is a coming-of-age story about a young woman on the brink of sexual and artistic awakening, navigating her way toward independence while recognizing the power, beauty and grit of where she came from. Timely and wise, it reckons with the complexities of consent, what it means to be an adult, and whether or not we can ever outrun our bad decisions.”
“Relying on classic Jewish dishes, new favorites, and some imports, Gray and Kassoff Gray look to change the traditional Jewish table by “blending” tastes and histories. With dishes like yukon gold and sweet potato latkes and vegetable kishka with sage and paprika mixed in with asparagus risotto with Parmesan tuiles and quick summer squash ratatouille, there is a little something from everywhere thrown into the pot. With more than 75 color photographs, stories, and instructions from the authors on almost every recipe, as well as other restaurateurs’ and chefs’ anecdotes peppered throughout, this book has a very personal and inviting feel, asking the reader to focus on enjoying the food.”
“Finding himself alone after his divorce and his mother’s recent death, Ben Ziskind distracts himself with work, crafting questions for a TV quiz show. When he decides to steal a Chagall painting that once belonged to his mother, his actions shake him from his hermetic shell. Flashbacks to Ben’s past and to the lives of Chagall and his one-time novelist friend, the Hidden One, merge together. Horn deftly weaves an intricate story steeped in folklore and family secrets. Along the way, readers are offered glimpses of the possibilities, allegorical and otherwise, of life’s beginning and end.”
“In this anthology of 14 short stories by YA authors, the protagonists experience all the familiar exhilaration, embarrassment, and anxiety of late adolescence, with physical symptoms to match: they’re torn, they freeze up, they blush. They are also Jewish, and what that means—in terms of family, upbringing, and beliefs—adds additional layers of questioning and rumination to their fledgling sense of themselves.”
“Russian Jewish folklore meets the modern world in this fantastical story of good versus evil. Estranged siblings Isaac and Bellatine Yaga come from a long line of Russian puppeteers, each having their own special talent (or curse). Isaac is the Chameleon King, changing his appearance by imitating a person’s muscle movements. Bellatine has hands which ignite and wake the puppets. The siblings reunite when they receive an inheritance—Thistlefoot, a living house with chicken legs that moves and responds to commands in Yiddish. Isaac and Bellatine tour the U.S. with Thistlefoot, performing their famous puppet shows, but they soon discover there are others intent on finding the magical house. The evil Longshadow Man is close and will let no one get in his way; however, the house has its own agenda, and dues must be paid to balance the universe’s energy.”
“In this ambitious mix of biography, historiography, and family memoir, historian Popkin (A New World Begins) pays tribute to his grandmother, novelist Zelda Popkin. Throughout, Popkin draws insightful comparisons between Zelda and other Jewish American writers and provides helpful synopses of her novels. This admiring profile restores a well-deserving author to the spotlight.”
“When Charles Lindbergh, Republican candidate in the 1940 presidential race, defeats popular FDR in a landslide, pollsters scramble for explanations–among them that, to a country weary of crisis and fearful of becoming involved in another European war, the aviator represents “normalcy raised to heroic proportions.” For the Roth family, however, the situation is anything but normal, and heroism has a different meaning. As the anti-Semitic new president cozies up to the Third Reich, right-wing activists throughout the nation seize the moment. Most citizens, enamored of isolationism and lost in hero worship, see no evil–but in the Roths’ once secure and stable Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey, the world is descending into a nightmare of confusion, fear, and unpredictability. But though the situation is grim, this is not a despairing tale; suspenseful, poignant, and often humorous, it engages readers in many ways. It prompts them to consider the nature of history, present times, and possible futures.”
“The Austrian Jewish Künstler family’s established, prosperous life is threatened when creeping Nazi reforms erode their freedom. Fortunately, they escape Vienna in 1939 and settle in Los Angeles, finding themselves on the fringes of its European émigré community. Salomea (“Mamie”), 11, enthusiastically explores her new home, helping her parents and aging grandfather learn English. When Mamie is 93, she invites her 23-year-old grandson, Julian, to stay with her; his New York life has disintegrated since he lost both his girlfriend and his roommate. His parents refuse to subsidize his aimless existence, so he reluctantly accepts Mamie’s offer, only to linger when the pandemic strikes. Over the months, Mamie recounts fascinating anecdotes about meeting famous writers and luminaries such as Greta Garbo. Contrasting the wartime excesses in Hollywood with privation in Austria, Mamie and Julian liken COVID-era isolation to the sense of exile so many faced when they fled Europe.”
“In Koshersoul, Michael W. Twitty considers the marriage of two of the most distinctive culinary cultures in the world today: the foods and traditions of the African Atlantic and the global Jewish diaspora. To Twitty, the creation of African-Jewish cooking is a conversation of migrations and a dialogue of diasporas offering a rich background for inventive recipes and the people who create them. The question that most intrigues him is not just who makes the food, but how the food makes the people. Jews of Color are not outliers, Twitty contends, but significant and meaningful cultural creators in both Black and Jewish civilizations. Koshersoul also explores how food has shaped the journeys of numerous cooks, including Twitty’s own passage to and within Judaism.”
If you live in Cleveland, you probably know that we like to brag about our wonderful museums. From the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to Cleveland Museum of Art to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Cowan Pottery Museum here at Rocky River Public Library, Cleveland has quite a few museums to explore and celebrate.
Documents the unsolved theft of twelve masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tracing the research of the late art detective Harold Smith while recounting the author’s own forays into the art underworld.
When Claudia decided to run away, she planned very carefully. She would be gone just long enough to teach her parents a lesson in Claudia appreciation. And she would go in comfort – she would live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In this collection of compact fictions, Nicolette Polek transports us to a gently unsettling realm inhabited by disheveled landlords, a fugitive bride, a seamstress who forgets what people look like, and two rival falconers from neighboring towns.
On April 30, 1970, President Nixon announced that the United States military would invade Cambodia, furthering their involvement in the Vietnam War.
On May 1, over 500 students gathered on an outdoor common area in the center of campus to demonstrate against President Nixon’s announcement. At this demonstration, a rally was planned for May 4, to continue the protest. During the next few days, students kept up the demonstrations, and after Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom declared a state of emergency, the Ohio National Guard were called on May 2.
On May 3, Governor Rhodes said they were going to “eradicate the problem” and that the protestors were “the worst type of people that we harbor in America” (Kent State). Another rally took place that evening, with Guardsmen tear gassing participants in order to get them to disperse. A curfew was enforced, and several students were bayoneted by Guardsmen.
On May 4, the originally planned protest took place as scheduled. The University tried to advertise it had been cancelled, but students (and some non-students as well) gathered anyway, even when tear gas was used to get them to disperse. At 12:24 PM, Guardsmen began firing at the protestors for approximately 13 seconds, killing four students—Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer—and injuring nine students— Joseph Lewis, John Cleary, Thomas Grace, Alan Canfora, Dean Kahler, Douglas Wrentmore, James Russell, Robert Stamps, and Donald MacKenzie. The University President closed the school and remained closed for six weeks.
This is an incredibly brief overview of the Kent State shootings and I highly recommend the Kent State University’s Digital Archives for oral histories, timelines, newspaper articles, interviews, and more. Below are a few titles available through the library for more information:
For National Library Week, which runs from April 23-29, the staff at Rocky River Public Library have filled quite a few shelves full of our book recommendations. From nonfiction to graphic novels to fantasy to audiobooks, we’ve got a little bit of everything for every type of reader.
But if you can’t make it in person to see our staff recommendations, here’s a list of just a few of the books staff have picked out:
Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best: The language of violence.
An account of the unsolved Golden State Killer case, written by the late author of the TrueCrimeDiary.com website traces the assaults and murders of dozens of victims and the author’s determined efforts to help identify the killer and bring him to justice.
Three Daughters of Eve is set over an evening in contemporary Istanbul and follows the efforts of a woman to navigate cultural, religious and economic tensions during a seaside mansion dinner party while enduring painful memories of her deep multicultural friendships during her Oxford years.
Zuboff explores the challenges to humanity posed by the digital future, presenting a detailed examination of the unprecedented form of power called “surveillance capitalism,” and the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control human behavior.
A clerk in a Tokyo of the near future works in an organization that controls the flow of information to society–employing electronic brainwashing and other insidious techniques–a job that contributes to his increasing sense of dehumanization.
Keefe documents the notorious abduction and murder of I.R.A. Troubles victim Jean McConville in 1972 Belfast, exploring how the case reflected the brutal conflicts of Northern Ireland and their ongoing repercussions.
Glitter and Glue presents an account of the author’s perspectives on motherhood, which have been shaped by her job as a nanny for a grieving Australian family and her character-testing experiences with her daughters.
Despite the unspeakable horrors that Frankl faced in the Nazi concentration camps, he learned from the strength of his fellow inmates that it is always possible to “say yes to life”–a profound and timeless lesson for us all.
Apparently, April is Garden Month! That seems fitting, as we are finally seeing some sunny, warm days in Rocky River. As you plot out your backyards, balconies, or windowsills, check out some of these helpful gardening books. Whether you’re a beginner or ready for a challenge, we’ve got a book for you.
I hope these books spark some plant inspiration! And remember, the Library has partnered with the Cleveland Seed Bank to provide seed packets for “check out”! It’s a great way to get started with a range of choices, from peppers to basil to zucchini. Please visit here for more information.
As you can probably tell based on my haiku attempt, I am not a poet nor am I well-versed in poetry! However, I recognize how important poetry is to literature, to culture, and to individuals. Poetry helps us understand new things, connects us to one another, and allows us to express our emotions. Poets new and old have a special place in our world and for National Poetry Month, here are some poets, familiar or maybe unknown, to celebrate this April.
“There’s no doubt that Abdurraqib has a lot to be serious about, but it’s also refreshing to see the majestic illusionist draw the audience in with a little bit of close-up magic. He reminds us, with self-deprecating irony, that trust is important to both poetry and magic, and that if this trust is broken, it should be to dazzle, not to harm.” (Bracken, 2019)
“Poetry to her was the expression of vital meanings, the transfer of passionate feeling and of deep conviction. Her work is essentially lyric; it lacks the slow, retreating harmonies of epic measures, it does not seek to present leisurely details of any sort; its purpose is to objectify the swiftly-passing moments and to give them poignant expression.” (Shackford, 1913)
“He writes in classic metres in a way to set the teeth of all the poets of the older schools on edge; and he writes in classic metres, and uses inversions and cliches whenever he pleases, those devices so abhorred by the newest generation. He goes his own way, regardless of anyone else’s rules, and the result is a book of unusual power and sincerity.” (Poetry Foundation)
“The beauty of Jones’s poems lies in the way they approach death through the pleasures of being alive, deploying a redemptive levity or an acerbic conviviality to lend shape to catastrophe.” (Woo, 2022)
“In this book, Vuong grieves the loss of his mother, but he also celebrates her existence. His strategy is to focus on the small moments in life that give our closest relationships their meaning.” (Chandonnet, 2022)
I hope you find some peace, healing, beauty, hope, or whatever it is you need from one of these poets or from any poet that catches your eye. And if you’re in the area, stop by the Library to see our wonderful National Poetry Month display where you can take a poem to support what you need.
Women’s History Month may be coming to an end, but it’s always the right time to read about women that have made an impact in society, large or small. Whether they wowed us on screen, wrote immersive novels, or influenced us in other ways, no one could deny the importance of women throughout time. There’s plenty of fantastic women to read about, but here are just a few biographies and memoirs to explore (all written by women, about women):
In this explosive debut, former iCarly star McCurdy recounts a harrowing childhood directed by her emotionally abusive stage mother. A narcissist and “full-blown hoarder,” McCurdy’s mother, Debra, pushed her daughter into acting at age six in 1999, doling out her scarce affection in tandem with the jobs McCurdy booked (while weaponizing her breast cancer—which eventually killed her in 2013—for good measure). After McCurdy hit puberty around age 11, her mother steered her to anorexia via “calorie restriction,” and later began performing invasive breast and genital exams on McCurdy at age 17. As she recounts finding fame on Nickelodeon, beginning in 2007 with her role on iCarly, McCurdy chronicles her efforts to break free from her mother’s machinations, her struggles with bulimia and alcohol abuse, and a horrific stint dating a schizophrenic, codependent boyfriend. McCurdy’s recovery is hard-won and messy, and eventually leads her to step back from acting to pursue writing and directing. Despite the provocative title, McCurdy shows remarkable sympathy for her mother, even when she recalls discovering that the man she called Dad while growing up was not, in fact, her biological father. Insightful and incisive, heartbreaking and raw, McCurdy’s narrative reveals a strong woman who triumphs over unimaginable pressure to emerge whole on the other side. (Publishers Weekly, vol 269, issue 22)
Michelle Obama offers readers a series of fresh stories and insightful reflections on change, challenge, and power, including her belief that when we light up for others, we can illuminate the richness and potential of the world around us, discovering deeper truths and new pathways for progress. Drawing from her experiences as a mother, daughter, spouse, friend, and First Lady, she shares the habits and principles she has developed to successfully adapt to change and overcome various obstacles — the earned wisdom that helps her continue to “become.”. (Novelist)
Educator Tubbs debuts with an engrossing triple biography of Alberta King, mother of Martin Luther King Jr.; Louise Little, mother of Malcom X; and Berdis Baldwin, mother of James Baldwin. Though these women have been “almost entirely ignored throughout history,” Tubbs writes, their teachings and approaches to motherhood “were translated directly into their sons’ writing, speeches and protests.” All three overcame prejudice and social restrictions on an almost daily basis and “strove to equip their children not only to face the world but to change it,” Tubbs writes. Alberta King (neé Williams) earned a college degree and became a leader of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father, husband, and son all served as pastors. Louise Little (neé Langdon), an immigrant from Grenada, was a leader in the Marcus Garvey movement. Berdis Baldwin (neé Jones) raised her children single-handedly after her husband’s death, and pushed them to fight hard for their educational opportunities. Though the world “tried to deny their humanity and their existence,” Tubbs writes, Alberta, Louise, and Berdis gave their sons the foundation to achieve greatness. Tubbs skillfully draws parallels between each woman’s story, and vividly captures the early years of the civil rights movement. This immersive history gives credit where it’s long overdue. (Publishers Weekly, vol 267, issue 52)
In her spirited debut memoir, actor Tyson recalls her extraordinary life, as well as the racial and gender stereotyping, movie-business prejudice, and ill-behaved men that shaped her seven-decade career. Tyson highlights her lifelong penchant for rebelling against convention and injustice, from speaking up against her straitlaced West Indian mother and her abandonment of an early marriage (an ordeal of “tedium and regret”) to fighting off an attempted sexual assault by acting teacher Paul Mann. She also discusses the importance of pushing back against excessive workplace demands. (“When the show’s director would not grant me the time off, I took it anyway.”) The memoir dives deep into Tyson’s reflections on how her performances affected audiences and fans, noting how “deeply satisfying” it was to hear from “those who approached me, tears in their eyes, to say how had touched them.” She also provides an intimate glimpse into her stormy marriage to jazz maestro Miles Davis, which ended in divorce. (“I felt no need to drape words on the hanger of inevitability. The marriage had long since been over.”) It’s in these poignant moments that the memoir becomes a resonant meditation on the link between an actress’s life and her art. This showstopping tale hits the mark. (Publishers Weekly, vol 268, issue 1)
The joys, challenges, and lasting lessons of a friendship with Chloe Ardelia Wofford, aka Toni Morrison. “When I met Toni Morrison in person, I had been her reader and her cheerleader for dozens of years,” writes Verdelle. What followed was more than two decades of friendship and hero worship, including delights and resentments big and small (the author is still wondering why Morrison had to steal her favorite scarf), along with “two and a half spats” dished in detail. Morrison may have been a diva in many ways, but Verdelle couldn’t have met her under more auspicious circumstances. In 1997, after she received a copy of Verdelle’s first (and only) published novel, The Good Negress, Morrison sent back an unsolicited appreciation, almost unheard of. Verdelle writes forcefully about the individual novels and about Morrison’s achievement as a whole. “Relentlessly stripping the hegemonic gaze,” she writes, “Morrison made us and our human complexities so visible, in language so eloquent and deep, that the whole of world literature could not deny her innovation and brilliance.” Elsewhere, she writes, “Morrison is to literature as James Brown is to popular culture”—the essence of Black and proud. Passionate, personal, insightful, testy, and unique. (Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2022)
Agatha Christie (1890–1976) was a modernist, an iconoclast, and a groundbreaker, according to this excellent biography from historian Worsley (The Austen Girls). Worsley argues that Christie’s public image as a quiet Edwardian lady who happens to scribble mysteries was a “carefully crafted” persona, made in order to “conceal her real self” and her unconventional and oft-daring life: she threw herself into nursing work and archeological digs, was a divorced single mother, married a much younger man, loved fast cars, and built an extraordinary career. Born into a well-off family, Christie was a child full of joy who grew up to create a “character in which she could do what she wanted” and rally against the “restrictive social customs” forced upon upper-middle-class women. Worsley offers close readings of Christie’s work, including the spinster character Miss Marple, who may have “stood for Agatha’s own self.” As well, she presents a careful reframe of the novelist’s famous 1926 disappearance, positioning it as a turning point in which she “lost her way of life and her sense of self,” rather than the media-constructed narrative that it was a “jealous… attention-seeking” move. Drawing on personal letters and modern criticism, Worsley manages to make her subject feel fresh and new. (Publishers Weekly, vol 269, issue 29)
A poignant memoir about a mother’s love as told through Korean food. Losing a parent is one thing, but to also lose direct ties to one’s culture in the process is its own tragedy. In this expansion of her popular 2018 New Yorker essay, Zauner, best known as the founder of indie rock group Japanese Breakfast, grapples with what it means to be severed from her Korean heritage following her mother’s battle with cancer. In an attempt to honor and remember her umma, the author sought to replicate the flavors of her upbringing. Throughout, the author delivers mouthwatering descriptions of dishes like pajeon, jatjuk, and gimbap, and her storytelling is fluid, honest, and intimate. Aptly, Zauner frames her story amid the aisles of H Mart, a place many Asian Americans will recognize, a setting that allows the author to situate her personal story as part of a broader conversation about diasporic culture, a powerful force that eludes ownership. The memoir will feel familiar to children of immigrants, whose complicated relationships to family are often paralleled by equally strenuous relationships with their food. It will also resonate with a larger audience due to the author’s validation of the different ways that parents can show their love—if not verbally, then certainly through their ability to nourish. “I wanted to embody a physical warning—that if she began to disappear, I would disappear too,” writes Zauner as she discusses the deterioration of her mother’s health, when both stopped eating. When a loved one dies, we search all of our senses for signs of their presence. A tender, well-rendered, heart-wrenching account of the way food ties us to those who have passed. (Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2021)
There are so many wonderful, new books being published but since it is still Women’s History Month, I wanted to focus on…women authors! I’ve created a list of a few recently published books by debut women authors to continue our celebration of Women’s History Month. From witches to thrillers to family strife, we’ve got it covered.
“When his wife, unable to handle the demands of motherhood and feeling the dreams she had slipping away once again, disappears, leaving their toddler son behind, Sam finds his vision for their future shattered, in this heartrending love story that explores what happens after a marriage collapses.”
“Told over five centuries through three connected women, this riveting novel follows Kate, in 2019, as she seeks refuge in Weyward Cottage; Altha, in 1619, as she uses her powers to maintain her freedom; and Violet, in 1942, as she searches for the truth about her mother’s death.”
“A funny, sharply observed novel of family, wealth, love and tennis, this zeitgeisty debut follows three women in an old Brooklyn Heights clan: one who was born with money, one who married into it, and one, the millennial conscience of the family, who wants to give it all away. Rife with the indulgent pleasures of affluent WASPS in New York and full of recognizable if fallible characters, it’s about the peculiar unknowability of someone else’s family, about the haves and have-nots and the nuances in between, and the insanity of first love-Pineapple Street is a scintillating, wryly comic novel of race, class, wealth and privilege in an age that disdains all of it.”
“In 1852, young widow Margaret Lennox, taking a position as governess to an only child at an isolated country house in the West of England, starts to feel that something isn’t quite right and, as her past threatens to catch up with her, she learns the truth behind the secrets of Hartwood Hall.”
“Seven years after the mysterious death of her best friend, Aubrey, Maya comes across a recent YouTube video in which a young woman dies in front of the same man Aubrey did, leading her back to a New England cabin to finally uncover a truth that could save her.”
In March, we acknowledge the incredible women that have paved the way for us—in science, sports, technology, literature, music… the list goes on and on. Without women, we would not have the dishwasher, the life raft, the circular saw, the car heater, or chocolate chip cookies! Women discovered the elements radon and francium and assisted on the development for more accessible treatments for cancer, chickenpox, and HIV/AIDS. Women are incredible musicians, athletes, and movie stars. Women have been doing it all since the beginning of time and they deserve their flowers!
A very easy way to celebrate Women’s History Month is to read a book written by a woman. There’s plenty to choose from but if you’re having trouble deciding, try one of the books below to delve deeper into some of the scientists, activists, entertainers, and authors that have provided us with so much.