Page 275 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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The Jewish Book Council and Its
Annual - an Appreciation
On the Occasion o f Their 40th Anniversary
In the year 1942 an enterprise was undertaken whose faith and
optimism in its success are a testimony to the deeply rooted Jewish
values of its founders. This was the first volume of the Jewish
Book Annual, which bore the title Jewish Book Week Annual,
and was published by the National Committee for Jewish Book
Week, the forerunner of the Jewish Book Council of America.
The question can be asked whether such faith and optimism
was warranted, for the year was a particularly black one for the
Jewish people. In Europe the Nazijuggernaut was at the height of
its savage destruction of Jewish life and culture. The European
Jewish communities had been the wellsprings of Jewish life and
learning for the Jews of America, a country sardonically called in
the past “ganev” (“th ie f ’). With European Jewry destroyed, there
was a questioning in some quarters whether American Jewry had
the wherewithall to survive spiritually.
Americanization and assimilation had been taking their toll.
For many, to become or to be an American was more important
than the preservation of traditional ways. The community was
hardly united. Divisive infighting infected all. The religious
community was divided into denominations which, more often
than not, refused to recognize each other’s existence except in
invective, and which all too often worked at cross-purposes. Polit­
ically there were Republicans and Democrats, but there were also
Bundists, Communists, Trotskyites, and Zionists of every stripe,
Religious, Socialist, Revisionist, etc. Anti-Semitism was a real
problem with German sympathizers and isolationists aggravating
the situation.
Jewish learning did not rank high in the priorities of the day.
Colleges and universities did not offer courses in Jewish studies
and few were the positions available for teaching and academic