West End Branch. Boston Pub­lic Library. Jew­ish book week. Arranged by Fan­ny Gold­stein, the cen­ter­piece is a wood-carv­ing with gold inlay of Mai­monides by the Boston artist Boris Mirski

I am enclos­ing you a bio­graph­ic sum­ma­ry plus some pub­lic­i­ty con­nect­ed with Jew­ish Book Week, of which idea I am the orig­i­na­tor in Amer­i­ca. Hence, my claim with all due mod­esty, to some knowl­edge of the Jew­ish book.

-Fan­ny Gold­stein to Sari­ta Olan, May 131935

The his­to­ry of Jew­ish Book Week and Jew­ish Book Month begins with Fan­ny Gold­stein. Born in Kamenets-Podol­sk, Rus­sia in 1895, Gold­stein immi­grat­ed with her fam­i­ly to Boston’s North End in 1900 [2]. Thir­teen years lat­er, she began work as an assis­tant in the North End Branch of the Boston Pub­lic Library (BPL) and only six years lat­er, was appoint­ed librar­i­an of the BPL’s Tyler Street Read­ing Room. The Tyler Street neigh­bor­hood was, in Goldstein’s words, a sec­tion of the city that is always for­eign.” Gold­stein con­tin­ued to serve immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties through­out her life, striv­ing to pro­vide a broad and sym­pa­thet­ic pro­gram with­out prej­u­dice, a square deal and a warm wel­come to all.” [3] By all accounts, she suc­ceed­ed. One of the many groups receiv­ing Goldstein’s out­reach and sup­port was the Syr­i­an com­mu­ni­ty, which gave her an exquis­ite­ly embroi­dered Madeira din­ing-table set,” with a note express­ing their grate­ful appre­ci­a­tion” for her ser­vice, when she left Tyler Street to serve the West End, anoth­er of Boston’s immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties [4].

Gold­stein was appoint­ed librar­i­an of the West End Branch — the Boston Pub­lic Library’s largest neigh­bor­hood branch — in 1922 and remained there for thir­ty-five years until her retire­ment in 1957. It may have been an act of divine prov­i­dence that brought Gold­stein to the West End Branch, to serve as the building’s last librar­i­an in what were to become the final decades of the old West End. The library had been in the Old West Church since 1896, and Gold­stein was great­ly inspired and hum­bled by this fact. She rev­eled in the building’s his­to­ry as a great church, with great pas­tors,” one that had influ­enced Boston for over one hun­dred and fifty years [5]. What had served long ago as the minister’s study became Goldstein’s office, fit­ting for a woman who approached her life’s work as some­thing akin to a reli­gious call­ing. Con­nect­ing the work of the min­is­ters with the Hebrew Prophets, she was able to embrace the building’s prove­nance as a Chris­t­ian house of wor­ship. In a 1942 arti­cle on the his­to­ry of Jew­ish Book Week pub­lished in the Jew­ish Advo­cate, Gold­stein wrote: All the preach­ers of the church had been unit­ed in one theme: The Broth­er­hood of Man. The gospel and the pow­er of the spo­ken word, as revealed through the Bible, was fear­less­ly preached. In this work, they relied on the tra­di­tions of the Puri­tan Fathers who in Colo­nial times staunch­ly upheld the teach­ings of the Hebrew Law and Prophets.” [6]

The West End was a dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed sec­tion of the city, with ten­e­ments, room­ing hous­es, and fac­to­ry build­ings. As was typ­i­cal of areas with immi­grant and poor pop­u­la­tions, the neigh­bor­hood also con­tained set­tle­ment hous­es — the Eliz­a­beth Peabody House, which was known nation­al­ly; the West End House, found­ed by Jew­ish immi­grants; and the Heath Chris­t­ian Cen­ter — where res­i­dents could access social ser­vices includ­ing recre­ation­al pro­grams and edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties. The set­tle­ment hous­es were open to all, regard­less of reli­gion or eth­nic ori­gin [7].

Gold­stein formed rela­tion­ships with the set­tle­ment hous­es and oth­er local insti­tu­tions. Like oth­er librar­i­ans of the BPL, she saw her­self as a com­mu­ni­ty leader, per­form­ing ser­vices for immi­grants along­side social work­ers and pub­lic health work­ers [8]. Many pub­lic libraries around the coun­try pro­vid­ed sim­i­lar out­reach to America’s recent arrivals. Boston, how­ev­er, had an espe­cial­ly rich his­to­ry upon which to draw. In 1854, the city estab­lished the first free large munic­i­pal library in the U.S., pri­mar­i­ly due to the Boston elite’s desire to pro­vide moral uplift to new immi­grants [9]. 

Serv­ing suc­ceed­ing pop­u­la­tions of new Amer­i­cans, Mass­a­chu­setts pub­lic libraries con­tin­ued to set the stan­dard in pro­vid­ing ser­vices to immi­grants through funds, pro­grams, and per­son­nel ded­i­cat­ed to such needs. They helped immi­grants to learn Eng­lish by pro­vid­ing books in easy form for adult begin­ners; to become Amer­i­can­ized by pro­vid­ing books about the U.S.; and to pre­serve their cul­tures by pro­vid­ing books in their native lan­guages [10]. Gold­stein believed that it was impor­tant for immi­grant groups to main­tain a strong sense of cul­tur­al pride and iden­ti­ty. Although she had a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in Jew­ish cul­ture and lit­er­a­ture, she was com­mit­ted to cel­e­brat­ing the cul­tures of all the library’s con­stituen­cies and served on the Amer­i­can Library Association’s Com­mit­tee on Work with the For­eign Born. 

When Gold­stein assumed charge of the West End Branch in 1922, she was impressed with the high intel­lec­tu­al plane” of the Jew­ish read­ers but lament­ed their igno­rance of Jew­ish his­to­ry and lit­er­a­ture and their lack of inter­est in the library’s many books on Jew­ish sub­jects and by Jew­ish authors [11]. She was deter­mined to pro­mote the library’s col­lec­tion of Jew­ish books and cre­ate inter­est in them among the library’s users. 

In Decem­ber 1925, Gold­stein put togeth­er a dis­play of Jew­ish books short­ly before Hanukkah. It was a sim­ple act. Yet Gold­stein was the first per­son known to arrange such a dis­play at a pub­lic library any­where in the U.S. One year after the pas­sage of the John­son-Reed Act aimed at curb­ing immi­gra­tion of East­ern Euro­pean Jews and oth­ers con­sid­ered unde­sir­able, and amid the nation’s ris­ing antag­o­nism toward for­eign­ers, Gold­stein assem­bled a dis­play aimed in part at increas­ing immi­grants’ pride in their his­to­ry and culture. 

An edi­to­r­i­al in the Jew­ish Advo­cate praised Goldstein’s under­tak­ing: Due to the care and efforts of Miss Fan­ny Gold­stein, the chief librar­i­an of the West End Pub­lic Library and the only Jew­ish librar­i­an in Mass­a­chu­setts, a unique enter­prise was under­tak­en at this branch library. Miss Gold­stein arranged for a Chanukah dis­play of the best Eng­lish books deal­ing with the Jew­ish peo­ple.” [12] The paper con­tin­ued to pro­mote Jew­ish Book Week with arti­cles and edi­to­ri­als through­out Goldstein’s career, and to decry Jews’ lack of inter­est in their own lit­er­a­ture. The main­stream press also pro­mot­ed Jew­ish Book Week. In 1926, the Boston Dai­ly Globe, not­ing that the West End branch of the BPL served a large Jew­ish clien­tele,” report­ed that the library’s dis­play includ­ed a Hanukkah meno­rah and signs in Eng­lish and Yid­dish sug­gest­ing that books be giv­en as Hanukkah gifts [13].

While Gold­stein was pop­u­lar­iz­ing Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture, in Ger­many that same lit­er­a­ture was receiv­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of atten­tion. In March 1933, Hitler appeared on the cov­er of Time. Two months lat­er, uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents through­out Ger­many burned books that Nazi lead­ers deemed incom­pat­i­ble with Ger­man cul­ture. The Ger­man Stu­dent Cor­po­ra­tion, the only orga­ni­za­tion of Ger­man under­grad­u­ates sanc­tioned by Hitler, issued a man­i­festo in April 1933 giv­ing notice of the book burn­ings. Stu­dents were instruct­ed to search their per­son­al libraries for books by Jew­ish authors that through thought­less­ness” may have come into their pos­ses­sion. All such books were to be burned, along with all books by Jew­ish authors that were held by pub­lic libraries.

As Ger­man libraries burned Jew­ish books, Gold­stein per­sist­ed in cel­e­brat­ing them. But now she turned her atten­tion to fight­ing anti­semitism as well. She was com­mit­ted to edu­cat­ing the pub­lic about the ris­ing anti­semitism in Ger­many and sought to raise aware­ness beyond the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Just three days after the May 10th book burn­ings, Gold­stein pub­lished Autos-da-fe for the Jew and His Book” in the Boston Globe, in which she decried civilization’s decline: One shud­ders at the thought of the pre­cious libraries of the land being emp­tied of their trea­sures. Libraries. The repos­i­to­ries of civ­i­liza­tion and keep­ers of the pre­cious records and man­u­scripts. And there are so many in Ger­many….” [14].

The fol­low­ing year, Gold­stein urged the cel­e­bra­tion of Jew­ish Book Week as a ton­ic for world events. Libraries can be dis­pensers of peace through empha­siz­ing the gospel of the book as an aid to good will and uni­ver­sal broth­er­hood.” [15] She con­tin­ued to frame Jew­ish Book Week as an anti­dote to anti­semitism through­out the peri­od of World War II. In her Jew­ish Book Week radio broad­cast in 1940, Gold­stein assert­ed that even book burn­ings could not extin­guish the indomitable faith and ide­al­ism” of the Jews, and told her lis­ten­ers that the week­long cel­e­bra­tion was a heal­ing balm for our bleed­ing wounds caused by big­otry, intol­er­ance, and anti-Semi­tism.” Ever the paci­fist, Gold­stein declared that the obser­vance of Jew­ish Book Week does not call for swords or bay­o­nets; gas­es or bombs. It is a dig­ni­fied, majes­tic empha­sis on our her­itage, and a reded­i­ca­tion to the sanc­ti­ty of our homes through lit­er­a­ture.” [16]

That same year, in a mes­sage writ­ten as Chair­man of the Nation­al Com­mit­tee for Jew­ish Book Week and dis­trib­uted as part of her Sug­ges­tive Mate­r­i­al for the Obser­vance of Jew­ish Book Week, Gold­stein asserted: 

The Nation­al Com­mit­tee for Jew­ish Book Week feels that in times such as the present, when books are being burned in oth­er parts of the world, it is the great­est good for­tune to be part of Amer­i­ca. In this demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­try, our books are not destroyed, but schol­ar­ship and pub­lish­ing are encour­aged for all who would read and under­stand. It is there­fore not only a duty and a priv­i­lege, but a mat­ter of pride as well, that we, the PEO­PLE OF THE BOOK, spon­sor and sup­port a Nation­al Jew­ish Book Week in every city and ham­let. [17]

Cities and ham­lets heed­ed Goldstein’s call. From 1936 to 1959, Jew­ish Book Week and Jew­ish Book Month were cel­e­brat­ed in many com­mu­ni­ties across the nation. Gold­stein was tire­less in her pro­mo­tion of Jew­ish Book Week, implor­ing librar­i­ans across the U.S. to place spe­cial empha­sis dur­ing this peri­od on the gospel of the Jew­ish book” and writ­ing arti­cles for the Jew­ish Advo­cate and Boston’s dailies [18].

The Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Society’s first Spring Book Fes­ti­val, in 1936, was timed to coin­cide with Jew­ish Book Week. The Soci­ety sold 4,000 books at the fes­ti­val, which became an annu­al event. As Jew­ish Book Week was moved to the Hanukkah sea­son in lat­er years, so was the fes­ti­val [19]. Even the State Department’s Voice of Amer­i­ca” radio sta­tion par­tic­i­pat­ed in the cel­e­bra­tion of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture, beam­ing a talk on Jew­ish Book Month to Israel in 1951. The speak­er, Dr. Azriel Eisen­berg of New York’s Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee Depart­ment, deliv­ered the address in Hebrew [20].

Gold­stein met reg­u­lar­ly in New York City with oth­er mem­bers of the Nation­al Com­mit­tee for Jew­ish Book Week, a dis­tin­guished group of schol­ars and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers. She was the only woman in the room and the only per­son with­out even a col­lege degree. Yet, Fan­ny Gold­stein had pro­vid­ed the impe­tus for the cause around which they had gath­ered [21].

While Gold­stein was not intim­i­dat­ed by male rab­bis and schol­ars, she was dis­il­lu­sioned with the arro­gance and over­bear­ing­ness of some. In addi­tion to con­fronting sex­ist atti­tudes, Gold­stein encoun­tered out­right exclu­sion as well. Goldstein’s mea­sured view of schol­ars and rab­bis was part­ly due to her gen­uine respect and con­cern for all peo­ple regard­less of their sta­tion in life. As her friend Rab­bi Ben­jamin Gross­man not­ed after her pass­ing, Gold­stein had a feel­ing for the lost soul.” [22] She reached out to the mar­gin­al­ized and dis­en­fran­chised, includ­ing home­less indi­vid­u­als and pris­on­ers. She made many vis­its to the Charlestown State Prison, attend­ed plays staged by pris­on­ers, accom­pa­nied Rab­bi Gross­man on hol­i­day vis­its, sent books to pris­on­ers, and encour­aged their lit­er­ary pur­suits. In Sep­tem­ber 1948 she wrote to Charlestown’s new war­den, ask­ing that he allow her to con­tin­ue to send box­es of sug­ar to the Jew­ish pris­on­ers dur­ing the hol­i­day of Rosh Hashanah. There were twelve Jew­ish inmates that year to whom she wished to send her lit­tle gift,” and one James Ker­ri­g­an with whom she had con­sid­er­able cor­re­spon­dence on books and the poet­ry which he has been writ­ing.” [23] She held annu­al Christ­mas Eve Open Hous­es at the library, wel­com­ing those whom oth­ers might have turned away, serv­ing turkey sand­wich­es, dough­nuts, and cof­fee to many who would oth­er­wise go hungry. 

Fan­ny Gold­stein touched the lives of many — immi­grant and Boston native; Jew and Chris­t­ian; the well-to-do and the des­ti­tute; the pris­on­er and the schol­ar; of all creeds and from all cor­ners of the world. She was com­mit­ted to social jus­tice, equal treat­ment for all, and a just and peace­ful world. Her work pro­mot­ing Jew­ish books con­tin­ues to bear fruit today, beyond any­thing she could have imagined.

[1](This refers to the title.) I thank the Jacob Rad­er Mar­cus Cen­ter of the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Archives for its finan­cial sup­port of the research under­tak­en for my dis­ser­ta­tion, With All Due Mod­esty: The Select­ed Let­ters of Fan­ny Gold­stein” (unpub­lished doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion, Boston Uni­ver­si­ty Grad­u­ate School of Arts and Sci­ences, 2018, https://​hdl​.han​dle​.net/​2144​/​33238, from which this essay is taken.

[2] Some sources give Goldstein’s year of birth as 1888. See, for exam­ple, Joy King­solver, Gold­stein, Fan­ny,” Amer­i­can Nation­al Biog­ra­phy Online, http://​www​.anb​.org/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​09/09 – 00897.html.

[3] Fan­ny Gold­stein, Tyler Street Read­ing Room,” Annu­al Report of the Library Depart­ment for the Year 1920 – 1921 (Boston: Feb. 21, 1921), 77.

[4Lit­er­ary Life: Staff Bul­letin of the Boston Pub­lic Library, Jan. 151923.

[5] Fan­ny Gold­stein, The Sto­ry of Jew­ish Book Week; Its His­to­ry and Influ­ence,” Jew­ish Advo­cate, June 121942.

[6] Ibid. 

[7] See Sean M. Fish­er and Car­olyn Hugh­es, eds., The Last Ten­e­ment: Con­fronting Com­mu­ni­ty and Urban Renew­al in Boston’s West End (Boston: The Boston­ian Soci­ety, 1992), 15.

[8] See Plum­mer Alston Jones, Jr., Libraries, Immi­grants, and the Amer­i­can Expe­ri­ence (West­port, CT: Green­wood Press, 1999), 10.

[9] See Wayne A. Wie­gand, Part of Our Lives: A People’s His­to­ry of the Amer­i­can Pub­lic Library (New York: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press), 25.

[10] See Jones, 169.

[11] Gold­stein, The Sto­ry of Jew­ish Book Week.”

[12Chanukah Dis­play at West End Pub­lic Library,” Jew­ish Advo­cate, Decem­ber 171925.

[13Chanukah Book Dis­play at Library,” Boston Dai­ly Globe, Decem­ber 41926.

[14] Fan­ny Gold­stein, Autos-da-fe for the Jew and His Book,” Boston Globe, May 131933.

[15] Fan­ny Gold­stein, Jew­ish Book Week” (let­ter to the edi­tor), Bul­letin of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion 28, no. 4 (April 1934): 221.

[16] Fan­ny Gold­stein, Why a Jew­ish Book Week” (radio broad­cast), Boston, Mass., 20 Dec. 1940.

[17] Fan­ny Gold­stein, Jew­ish Book Week Mes­sage,” in Sug­ges­tive Mate­r­i­al for the Obser­vance of Jew­ish Book Week, Decem­ber 22 – 29, 1940, com­piled by Fan­ny Goldstein.

[18] Fan­ny Gold­stein, Jew­ish Book Week” (let­ter to the edi­tor), Bul­letin of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion 26, no. 5 (May 1932): 347.

[19] See Jonathan R. Sar­na, JPS: The Amer­i­can­iza­tion of Jew­ish Cul­ture, 1888 – 1988 (New York: The Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety, 1989), 181.

[20] Jew­ish Book Month Obser­vance Begins,” Philadel­phia Jew­ish Expo­nent, 23 Nov. 1951.

[21] Sil­via Glick, Judaica’s First Lady: Fan­ny Gold­stein and Jew­ish Book Week” (unpub­lished man­u­script, May 42011).

[22Throngs at Gold­stein Rites: Noble of Char­ac­ter,’ Says Rab­bi,” Boston Globe, Dec. 281961.

[23] Gold­stein to War­den E. L. Spurr, 29 Sept. 1948.