Roger Horowitz is the author of Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Oth­er Tales of Mod­ern Food. Fol­low­ing up Elis­sa Altman’s writ­ing about Treyf last week, Roger is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Bertie and Charles Schwartz, Lake Placid, New York. Image pro­vid­ed cour­tesy of Roger Horowitz

When I spoke to the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil in May to pro­mote Kosher USA, I had to pref­ace my pitch by explain­ing my fam­i­ly con­nec­tion to the orga­ni­za­tion. My grand­moth­er Bertie Schwartz was Jew­ish Book Council’s first women pres­i­dent. She comes into my book most­ly through my mother’s sto­ries, told to me over vis­its to her Upper West Side apart­ment after spend­ing time in New York City archives, usu­al­ly while we were eat­ing sand­wich­es sent in from Fine & Schapiro Deli on 72nd street.

I relate one of those sto­ries in detail in my book: how Bertie obtained kosher meat for the family’s sum­mer res­i­dence in Lake Placid, New York in the 1950s. This entailed order­ing a kosher beef fore­quar­ters (weigh­ing per­haps 200 pounds) from an Albany slaugh­ter­house, cut­ting them into pieces small enough to pre­pare for a din­ner, kash­er­ing them with salt as required under kosher law, and then freez­ing the cuts for use dur­ing the summer. 

Else­where, though, Bertie enters in to my book as co-author (with her hus­band Charles) of Faith Through Rea­son, a wide­ly dis­trib­uted primer on Judaism and Jew­ish law, first pub­lished in 1946 and reprint­ed sev­er­al times. I return sev­er­al times to this text to help explain the nature of Judaism to read­ers, and also to the par­tic­u­lar way in which I learned about my reli­gion. What I didn’t go into fur­ther is what writ­ing the book reflect­ed, more deeply, about Bertie’s remark­able intel­lec­tu­al and per­son­al com­mit­ment to Jew­ish literacy. 

Col­lege-edu­cat­ed and with a law degree from New York Uni­ver­si­ty, Bertie believed deeply that edu­ca­tion and life­long learn­ing was the key to Jew­ish advance­ment in Amer­i­ca. Dur­ing World War II she trav­elled fre­quent­ly to a read­ing cen­ter for Jews in the Bronx, an exhaust­ing jour­ney she even­tu­al­ly had to give up — she used that time instead instead to write Faith Through Rea­son with Charles. Fol­low­ing the war she became involved in many Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions, most with an empha­sis on books and edu­ca­tion. She lead cours­es for syn­a­gogue librar­i­ans and even cre­at­ed a basic Jew­ish home library dis­trib­uted through Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions. She was a mem­ber of the Task Force on Art and Lit­er­a­ture in Jew­ish Life of the Fed­er­a­tion of Jew­ish Phil­an­thropies and an edi­to­r­i­al con­sul­tant to Judaica Book News. She cre­at­ed the Charles and Bertie G. Schwartz Read­ing Room and Library at the Stein­berg Cen­ter of the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Con­gress, once locat­ed just off 5th Avenue on 85th street. All this while also work­ing as one of the only Jews in the Amer­i­can Mother’s Com­mit­tee, where she met, among oth­er lumi­nar­ies, Eleanor Roo­sevelt. And, of course, she became deeply involved in the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil in the 1960s and 1970s.

I remem­ber her as a ver­i­ta­ble force of nature, always with books piled on every sur­face in her home, and ask­ing her teenage grand­son (me) to help with new devices that she hoped would make her more effi­cient, such as an ear­ly home copy machine that we could nev­er get to work prop­er­ly. She died sud­den­ly, a young 75, of a heart attack, while run­ning to catch a taxi as she was late for a meet­ing. While sad­dened, my moth­er always reflect­ed how the way Bertie died said so much about her deter­mi­na­tion and ener­gy. My grand­moth­er would be so proud of the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, not only for what her old orga­ni­za­tion now does, but for the con­tin­u­ing com­mit­ment of it and its many mem­bers to books and Jew­ish edu­ca­tion. It was one of my great­est plea­sures writ­ing my book that I was able to share with oth­ers some of what she sought to give to Judaism.

Roger Horowitz is a food his­to­ri­an and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for the His­to­ry of Busi­ness, Tech­nol­o­gy, and Soci­ety at the Hagley Muse­um and Library. He is the author of Negro and White, Unite and Fight, Putting Meat on the Amer­i­can Table, and Kosher USA.

JBC relies upon the sup­port of our read­ers to con­tin­ue in our mis­sion to pro­mote the read­ing, writ­ing, and pub­li­ca­tion of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. Please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion!

Relat­ed Content:

Roger Horowitz is a food his­to­ri­an and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for the His­to­ry of Busi­ness, Tech­nol­o­gy, and Soci­ety at the Hagley Muse­um and Library. He is the author of Negro and White, Unite and Fight: A Social His­to­ry of Indus­tri­al Union­ism in Meat­pack­ing, 1930 �“ 1990 and Putting Meat on the Amer­i­can Table: Taste, Tech­nol­o­gy, Transformation.

Roger Horowitz is avail­able to be booked for speak­ing engage­ments through Read On. Click here for more information.