Post­ed by Nat Bern­stein

Jew­ish Book Coun­cil is proud to announce the real­iza­tion of its project to cre­ate a dig­i­tized archive of the Jew­ish Book Annu­al in part­ner­ship with the Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry, pre­sent­ing over half a cen­tu­ry of nation­al dis­course on Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture in an inter­ac­tive, search­able for­mat to hon­or the 90th anniver­sary of the first Jew­ish Book Week.

Last week, con­tribut­ing edi­tor Nat Bern­stein intro­duced the archives with a reflec­tion on the first vol­ume of Jew­ish Book Annu­al and its con­trib­u­tors’ aware­ness of world events in the midst of World War II. Under­stand­ing the Nazi’s mass exter­mi­na­tion of Euro­pean Jew­ry and the writ­ers, artists, and schol­ars among them as the mur­der not only of peo­ple but of expres­sion and the writ­ten word, the Annu­al called upon Amer­i­can Jews to take on the man­tle of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture thereto­fore helmed by the names list­ed in the journal’s annu­al, trag­i­cal­ly length­en­ing ros­ter of The Acad­e­my on High”.

Emerg­ing from the same peri­od, one of the more aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly com­pelling fea­tures of the ear­li­est issues of the Jew­ish Book Annu­al was the lin­guis­tic con­ver­sa­tion between Eng­lish, Hebrew, and Yid­dish — then the lin­guae fran­cae of Amer­i­can Jew­ry. Although today Jew­ish Book Coun­cil pri­mar­i­ly works only with books in Eng­lish or Eng­lish trans­la­tion, its mis­sion and read­er­ship held dif­fer­ent aims, inter­ests, and con­scious­ness over the mid­cen­tu­ry years between the Holo­caust and Israel’s claim for independence.

Reflect­ing on the recep­tion of the inau­gur­al vol­ume, the publication’s edi­tor, Dr. Solomon Grayzel, not­ed the fol­low­ing year: Our Annu­al of 1942 was hailed as proof of the inher­ent uni­ty of Jew­ish cul­ture in the Unit­ed States, despite the trilin­gual form in which our efforts — lit­er­ary and edu­ca­tion­al — man­i­fest them­selves. To prove the exis­tence of and to enhance this uni­ty are, indeed, the twin pur­pos­es of the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. It was cre­at­ed in order to pro­vide a Cul­tur­al Exchange for the three lin­guis­tic groups in Amer­i­can Israel, all of which are Amer­i­can, all of which are Jew­ish, and all of which strive to enrich their com­mon cul­tur­al heritage.”

To that end, the Jew­ish Book Annu­al orig­i­nal­ly fea­tured not only sec­tions writ­ten in each lan­guage but an intri­cate and thought­ful web of dis­course and ref­er­ence between them. Read­ers of one lan­guage were kept informed of the works pub­lished in the oth­ers, as well as of any trans­la­tions made avail­able in their own, over the pre­vi­ous year. Apart from serv­ing as a guide and a source book,” Grayzel wrote in the 19481949 issue, the Annu­al serves to acquaint the users of one lan­guage with the lit­er­ary prod­ucts of the oth­er two.”

Beyond pro­mot­ing and enhanc­ing Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture among the broad­est pos­si­ble audi­ence of Amer­i­can Jew­ish read­ers, this trilin­gual effort was root­ed in a nation­al clam­or for uni­ty as the events of the Holo­caust, its after­math, and Israel’s polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strug­gle for inde­pen­dence raged over­seas. This year we have attempt­ed to bring to our read­ers infor­ma­tion about the new post-war devel­op­ments in Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture in Europe,” edi­tor Abra­ham G. Duk­er high­light­ed in his pref­ace to the 19471948 issue. We have also dis­cussed […] the wis­dom of more inten­sive cov­er­age of dif­fer­ent fields of Hebrew lit­er­a­ture in dif­fer­ent years in view of most for­tu­nate cul­tur­al devel­op­ments in Eretz Israel and the con­se­quent large out­put of books, trends which we hope will con­tin­ue uninterruptedly.”

This was not to be the case, as the fol­low­ing vol­ume of Jew­ish Book Annu­al went to print in the midst of Israel’s War of Inde­pen­dence. It is a source of deep regret that three arti­cles on the Hebrew lit­er­ary cre­ativ­i­ty in the State of Israel, that had been assigned to and accept­ed by out­stand­ing Israeli per­son­al­i­ties, have not been received as this book goes to press, undoubt­ed­ly due to the unset­tled con­di­tions there,” Grayzel con­tin­ued in his intro­duc­tion to Vol­ume VII. When these arti­cles are received,” he promised, the Coun­cil will find appro­pri­ate chan­nels for their prop­er dis­sem­i­na­tion so that we can join in pay­ing trib­ute to our brethren in Israel.”

Hap­pi­ly, how­ev­er, the Annu­als ded­i­ca­tion to its trilin­gual dia­logue on Amer­i­can Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture tran­si­tioned from deter­mi­na­tion and sur­vival to a cel­e­bra­tion of cul­ture, her­itage, and the arts as the Jew­ish Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty flour­ished in a more peace­ful world the next decade. Yid­dish lives in our Annu­al. Hebrew lives in our Annu­al. Jew­ish Art lives in our Annu­al. Books, books, books live in our Annu­al,” Ely E. Pilchik intro­duced Vol­ume XIII (19551956). As the fourth cen­tu­ry begins for Amer­i­can Jew­ry, and the fourth or fifth mil­len­ni­um for the descen­dants of Jacob, Jews are writ­ing in at least three lan­guages — Hebrew, Yid­dish and Eng­lish. If there is writ­ing there must be read­ing. From ear­li­est times we Jews have hal­lowed his­to­ry with דאס ווארט — הדבר — the word — oral and writ­ten. As long as we so hal­low will our his­to­ry be glow­ing­ly alive.”

Lit­tle did he know that one day it would be so lit­er­al­ly glow­ing­ly alive off com­put­er screens and even hand­held devices dis­play­ing his own words in dig­i­tal archives freely avail­able and acces­si­ble to all.

Relat­ed Content:

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.