Page 274 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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ROBERT GORDIS
The 1981 National Jewish
Book Awards
I t
is
now
more than three decades since National Book Awards
were instituted under the aegis of the Jewish Book Council. It
would be grossly untrue to suggest that earlier in our century
American Jewry was a cultural wasteland. The large prosperous
and free community of American Jews has made some significant
contributions to Jewish culture in general, and Jewish books in
particular. It was in the United States during the first decade of
the twentieth century that the Jewish Encyclopedia, the first work
of this kind in a modern language, was conceived and carried to
completion, a work which has not been superceded by its succes­
sors to the present day. A representative group of American
Jewish scholars had produced a new translation of the Bible into
English in 1917 under the editorship of Prof. Max L. Margolis,
the greatest Jewish biblical scholar to emerge from American
Jewry. There were several highly literate and respectablejournals
of Jewish interest on the American scene. Jewish scholarship had
produced several important works, some of which, like Henry
Maker’s
Saadia Gaon
remain classics in the field. A substantial
number of short stories and novels of Jewish interest had ap­
peared, of which
The Rise ofDavid Levinsky
by Abraham Cahan was
probably the most notable. A few gifted poets, like Charles Rez-
nikoff, and to a lesser degree, Louis Untermeyer had mined the
rich quarries of Jewish lore for their literary creations. A small
group of men of letters, which included Ludwig Lewisohn,
Maurice Samuel and Marvin Lowenthal among others, produced
significant works of abiding interest and value which present-day
readers neglect to their own loss. A bright, but brief renaissance
of Hebrew poetry took place in the United States through a
coterie of gifted writers. The Yiddish language, at the floodtide of
its influence, was the medium for an influential and widely-read
press, and for works of drama, belles-lettres and poetry.
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