Farmingdale Library Teens: JEWISH YA BOOKS: MORE THAN THE HOLOCAUST

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08 November 2021

Are you there god It’s me, Marguerite Number the stars Anne Frank’s Diary

Sometimes I cringe watching organizations that promote various books or empowerment books for children, because often when a book with Jewish figures is featured it is about the Holocaust. This is true even with the prices of the Jewish book. (This has been written extensively in The New York Times last summer). While I absolutely believe that well-written Holocaust novels and narratives are needed – over 60% of Millennials and Gen Z have no idea that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust – it there is so much more to do between Jews and Judaism. We are not the worst thing that has happened to us. It is important that children, adolescents and adults, Jewish or not, know this.

It is also worth reflecting and examining many of these Holocaust stories: who tells them, who they focus on, and the facts (or untruths) they contain. Katherine Locke wrote about it, and this topic could be an article in itself.

Our Jewish stories of joy and holiday celebrations should also be shared; they must be shared. But the same goes for our general stories of love, friendship, family and life, the only Jewish part being our last name or history. They are also Jewish stories. We need to see stories of conversion, of LGBTQIA + Jews, of Jews with disabilities, of interfaith Jewish families, of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, of Jews of color, and of Jews from all branches of Judaism. As Katherine Locke writes,

“We have to stand up for Jewish books that are tangentially Jewish and Jewish books that make us uncomfortable and Jewish books that are more religious than what we are used to seeing in mainstream publishing. need books that cover all types of religious observance, non-judgmental We must stand up for books that talk about Israel in a way that makes us feel comfortable, whatever it is. We have to stand up for books that talk from parts of Judaism that children may find limiting and restrictive, to books that find Judaism liberating. “

“We have to stand up for Jewish books that are tangentially Jewish and Jewish books that make us uncomfortable and Jewish books that are more religious than what we are used to seeing in mainstream publishing. need books that cover all types of religious observance, non-judgmental We must stand up for books that talk about Israel in a way that makes us feel comfortable, whatever it is. We have to stand up for books that talk from parts of Judaism that children may find limiting and restrictive, to books that find Judaism liberating. “

At a time when anti-Semitism is at record levels, Jewish children and teens need to see themselves in good books, to thrive, to enjoy life, and even to love being Jewish.

At first glance, it may seem that there aren’t many Jewish YA’s on the shelves that don’t talk about the Holocaust. When I started this article, this is what I assumed. Through research and discussion with Jewish authors, I found that this was not entirely true. It’s more a question of the visibility of these books.

One visibility problem is that many books do not specifically qualify as Jewish, unless there is another representation as well, says YA author Dahlia Adler. This is because “people don’t really associate Jewishness with being a category of diversity.” Adler points out that his latest book that garnered a lot of attention (and rightly so; it’s excellent), Fresh for summer, has a Jewish and queer representative, just like LC Rosen’s Camp. Regarding many Jewish books, she says, “I think people look at these books and see straight white teenagers and don’t realize … I think the books are there, but the attention to them or to the Jewish representative in them is what falters. . ”

Fresh for summer, Camp

Jamie Beth Cohen, author of wasted pretty, raises another point: in many books, even when the story has nothing to do with religion or the holidays, there will be references to Christmas, Easter or church; Christian is often the default. Cohen’s books contain Jewish figures, but do not deal with Judaism.

wasted pretty

Even Becky Albertalli’s books, which contain Jewish characters, are not generally considered or classified as “Jewish books”.

Little lion Sick children in love Hope and other punchlines

Many Jews do not define Judaism only as a religion; it is often called ethnoreligion, or a religion which is also linked to culture and ethnic heritage. Many Jews consider their Jewishness to be a culture or an ethnicity. For this reason, Jewish stories and Jewish books should not be limited to celebrating religious holidays or having Jewish themes.

Another factor is the marketing, review and publicity of these books, as Adler also pointed out to me. Evonne Marzouk, who wrote The prophetess, echoes this. She points out that even in Jewish circles, although there is strong pressure for children’s books to be distributed in the community (hello, PJ Library), the YA books get lost in the rework. These organizations do not cater to Jewish teenagers and do not advertise the YA books. She asks, “People say Jewish teenagers disappear after their Bar and Bat Mitzvah, so why don’t we use books to help them stay engaged? (I contacted PJ Library to ask about this, but received no response). She also adds that she is not aware of any non-Jewish book organization organizing lists of current non-Holocaust Jewish books, so they are more likely to get lost.

The prophetess

Do the book reviews highlight the Jewish portrayal in the books, or is it not even noticed?

Does Bookstagram, Bookish Social Media, and Teachers only recommend Holocaust books when it comes to Jewish figures and Jewish historical figures? Do they recommend books with Jewish representatives throughout the year, and not just on Holocaust Remembrance Day?

For Jewish organizations and awards committees, are they making an effort to include more than just Holocaust stories? Are they embracing various Jewish stories that challenge ashkenomativity or the status quo?

When we make lists of various books and encourage people to read differently, are we including a Jewish representative on those lists?

All of this makes a difference in visibility.

So the good news is that there is more unrelated Jewish portrayal of the Holocaust in the YA books than originally thought. Hooray!

The bad news is that we still have a ways to go, both with the books themselves and everything around them.

How to find what you are not looking for

Bookish social media accounts can include Jewish representation in their miscellaneous book lists and make an effort to read more books with Jewish characters – then talk about it. Do not let the only Jewish representation be associated with the Holocaust or publish about it only on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Include Jewish books in your diversity year round.

Buy Jewish books. Ask for them in libraries and schools. Get them as gifts for people. Follow Jewish authors on social media. In the book world, platforms, social media, and sales all matter. This is what agents and editors note.

But perhaps more importantly, perhaps we need a reframing of what we think of when we think about what a Jewish story is, both to non-Jews and to Jewish readers. When questioned, a large majority of Jews said the Holocaust was central to their Jewish identity, and again, I want to repeat, this is not where our stories begin and end. Our stories did not end in 1945.

Jewish stories include a secular Jew who celebrates Christmas but has a bubbe. A Jewish story can be a queer Hasidic love story or a coming-of-age Birthright story. It’s a beach reading that takes place in the Catskills. Jewish stories include stories of racism in the Jewish community, and stories of both losing faith and becoming a ba’al techuva (a secular Jew who becomes active). Or the two best friends who sneak out of Hebrew high school every week to cross the street to the pizzeria to catch up on an illicit pepperoni pizza. Jewish Stories also include books that make no explicit mention of Judaism except for a revealing Jewish surname and an affinity for bagels.

When someone thinks of Jewish books, these books should all come to mind, not just the Holocaust books. And the more conversations we have about it, maybe one day it will happen.


This press release was produced by The teens of the Farmingdale library. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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