#LitJAHM24 Mid-Month Update

For this year's literary observance of Jewish American Heritage Month (Jewish Heritage Month in Canda), I'm spotlighting books that embody intersections between Jewish American (and Canadian) experience and Israel. Because for those of us imbued with a sense of K'lal Yisrael (Jewish peoplehood), those intersections matter. Especially this year.

As I explained in the most recent issue of my newsletter for writers, my literary observance of Jewish American Heritage Month (in Canada, Jewish Heritage Month) has a new focus for 2024/5784, one conditioned by what occurred on October 7 and all that’s unfolded since then. Considering, too, that several of this year’s “Modern Jewish Holidays”—including Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day)— also fall in May, this month seems to me to provide both an opportunity and a responsibility to highlight books that, in various ways, embody connections and intersections among Jewish people in the United States (and Canada) and in Israel, where just about half of the world’s current Jewish population now lives. Call it a project imbued by the sense of K’lal Yisrael, Jewish peoplehood, which was integral to my own Jewish upbringing, and which I’ve experienced more than ever before since October 7. Or call it a reflection of a key element in this Jewish American’s understanding of her heritage.

To this end, I’ve been highlighting one book each day throughout the month (as last year, on Twitter). And, again similar to last year’s practice, I plan to compile the featured titles at month’s end on Bookshop.

But at the month’s midpoint, I thought that it might make sense to share an update.

Below, then, are the #LitJAHM24 titles featured thus far, with some brief annotations. All of them are titles that I’ve read—some, as you’ll see, I’ve written about, too.

  • May 1: Jewish Literature: A Very Short Introduction by Ilan Stavans (Oxford University Press, 2021). It seemed appropriate to kick off this project with an overview/orienting title. I’ve used this book by Amherst College professor Stavans in my own teaching, not least for its own introductory section and for an Israeli-literature-focused chapter titled “The Promised Land.”
  • May 2: The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia edited by Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz, and Mark Oppenheimer (Artisan Publishers, 2019). Another broad-scope book. Highly entertaining as well as informative, as I’ve mentioned in commentary for Moment magazine.
  • May 3: Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel by Francine Klagsbrun (Schocken Books, 2017). I selected this one because May 3, 1898, was the date Golda Meir was born in Kiev. The book chronicles her life—including her childhood and young adulthood in the United States—as well as her immigration to and many roles in building and serving what became the state of Israel.
  • May 4: The Essential Ellen Willis edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). In choosing this one, I also (re-)highlighted an essay that strikes me as gobsmackingly current in its resonance, more than 20 years after it was first published.
  • May 5: The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century by Adam Kirsch (W.W. Norton, 2020). Another book that situates Israeli Jewish literature alongside titles from America and elsewhere.
  • May 6. The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt (Schocken, 2011). A selection for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), written by the current U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.
  • May 7. Seven months to the day after the Hamas attacks on southern Israel, I chose to spotlight a novel set largely within an Israeli kibbutz: Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope (Fig Tree Books, 2015). Here, too, was my first nod to Canada’s simultaneous Jewish Heritage Month observance, not only for the presence of a Canadian character but also because Hope was herself raised in Montreal. This title also started a week of focusing on works of fiction.
  • May 8. This day’s featured title: Eternal Life: A Novel by Dara Horn (W.W. Norton, 2018).
  • May 9. Today’s title, Ruchama King Feuerman’s 2013 novel In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist (recently re-released in an edition from Open Road Media), is one that I’ve included on a previous book list, declaring it to be a particularly noteworthy “Jerusalem novel.”
  • May 10. Something a little different today: fiction featuring Israeli Jewish characters in the United States, via The Hebrew Teacher, three novellas by Maya Arad (trans. Jessica Cohen; New Vessel Press, 2024). The title novella is a standout.
  • May 11: Set in Canada, Nora Gold’s 2014 novel Fields of Exile (Dundurn Press), offered me another chance to highlight the simultaneity of Jewish American Heritage month in the U.S. and Jewish Heritage Month north of the border. Read this Q&A with the author to learn more about this still-stunningly timely book.
  • May 12: This one seemed especially appropriate as Mother’s Day and Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism) were about to converge: Textile by Orly Castel-Bloom (trans. Dalya Bilu), which I reviewed when it was published in 2013. As I mentioned on Twitter, it’s difficult to imagine its press—The Feminist Press—releasing it now. And one more note: It’s probably not a coincidence that with Textile we reach the end of a string of three fictional works that involve [North] American college campuses. Because at the moment, I most definitely have college campuses on the brain.
  • May 13. Another title selected with Yom HaZikaron in mind: Jacob Paul’s 2010 novel Sarah/Sara. (Ig Publishing). Read my piece about the book for Fiction Writers Review to understand the connection.
  • May 14. For Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), I returned to nonfiction and selected a title that I was encountered in an adult-education course some years back: A Safe Haven: Harry S Truman and the Founding of Israel (Harper, 2009).
  • May 15. Another nod to the Canadians today with Matti Friedman’s Who By Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai (Spiegel and Grau, 2022).

That’s all for now. Please follow along on Twitter for continuing posts until the end of May—and/or stay tuned for the full #LitJAHM24 list. (Coming next week: poetry!)

4 thoughts on “#LitJAHM24 Mid-Month Update

  1. Jerry Slaff says:

    How about a play? My play LIES, about a Jewish pro bono attorney representing a female German World War II radio propagandist at her parole hearing in 1950 Brooklyn, has been read and produced around the country, won the 2020 Writer’s Digest grand prize, and will have its West Coast premiere in the fall in Santa Barbara, California!

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Jerry, congratulations on the upcoming West Coast premiere of your play, which sounds fascinating. I was actually going to decline this post: This list, as explained, is very much focused on North American literary intersections with Israel. (Plus, I’ve already mapped out all of the other titles for the month.) And I’m a little anxious about opening up comments to a flood of other self-promotional posts. But if that happens, so be it. If there’s any time for me to allow that to happen, I guess it’s JAHM!

  2. Jerry Slaff says:

    Understood. I just wanted to make you aware. I’ve written a number of Jewish-themed plays and working on a book-length short story cycle about a young, green Rabbi in New Jersey.

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