Page 275 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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A half century ago, Jewish culture in general and Jewish books
in particular had very low priorities among native born American
Jews. Quantitatively and qualitatively Jewish books did not “rate.”
It was to remedy this situation that the Jewish Book Council was
organized in 1942 and in 1944 became an arm of the National
Jewish Welfare Board. It had two related aims: to call the atten­
tion of the community to Jewish books and create a reading and
buying public for them on the one hand, and on the other, to
contribute to raising the quality of Jewish books by recognizing
works of merit and importance.
In the traditional Jewish calendar there are two foci of festivals.
One cluster, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot in the Fall
and the other, Pesah in the Spring. The pattern was followed,
albeit unconsciously, by the Jewish Book Council, which created
two festivals for the Jewish book.
The first festival, Jewish Book Month, was called into being for
the Hanukkah season, traditionally the time for the giving of
gifts. Throughout the United States and Canada, Jewish com­
munities and communal institutions, synagogues, centers and
other organizations have encouraged and guided the observance
of this festival. The impact of Jewish Book Month is clearly
marked in the communal life of hundreds of cities, towns and
hamlets in the United States and Canada.
The second festival is the National Jewish Book Awards Cere­
mony. Through the generosity of far-sighted donors concerned
with the perpetuation of Jewish culture and the contribution of
scholars, thinkers and writers who undertake to serve as judges,
awards are made each year in major areas of Jewish culture. At
present, Jewish Book Awards are available in the fields of Jewish
thought, fiction, juveniles, history, Israel, the Holocaust and
poetry. Several additional awards to cover other important areas
are under consideration. In addition to the cash gift, the prestige
of the National Jewish Book Awards and the publicity which
accompanies the selection of the winners and the presentation of
the citations are highly regarded, both by the recipients and their
publishers and the American Jewish public.
The prizes, judges and winners for a book in each category for
1981 are listed below. During the years a standard format for the
National Jewish Book Awards ceremony has evolved, though the
program continues to be enriched from year to year. Basically the