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Jewish American Heritage Month: Recommended books and movies

Posted in outreach

In celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month, the University Library invites our students and community to explore the below recommendations, including documentaries, feature films, readings, and other resources! These recommendations focus on Jewish American identity and the roles of Jewish American on American life and culture. Movie and reading recommendations provided by Lynn Lampert, Librarian and Subject Specialist for Jewish Studies.

LA resources and events

The Los Angeles Public Library has many collections and events for Jewish American Heritage Month.

Collections at CSUN University Library

To access these recommendations, remember to log-in with your CSUN credentials for full access. Most of the summaries below are adapted from the publisher/distributor.

Documentary and Major Motion Pictures

Sholem Aleichem : Laughing in the Darkness (2012)

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness is a riveting portrait of writer Sholem Aleichem, whose stories about Tevye the Milkman became the basis of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. Aleichem (1859‒1916) was a rebellious wordsmith who created a new genre of literature and used his remarkable humor to encapsulate the realities of the Eastern European Jewish world in the late nineteenth century. Directed by Joseph Dorman. Watch Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness through Alexander Street Press

Matzo & Mistletoe (2007)

Filmmaker Kate Feiffer was six years old when her father told her she was Jewish. Since she celebrated Christmas and never attended synagogue, this information came as a surprise. In Matzo & Mistletoe, Feiffer interviews a fascinating cast of characters, and uses archival footage, illustration, and clips from television shows and movies to ponder the paradox of American secular Judaism. Matzo & Mistletoe features interviews with Ms. Feiffer. Watch Matzo & Mistletoe through Alexander Street Press

Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

A journalist assigned to write a series of articles on anti-semitism decides to pose as a Jew and finds out first-hand what it is like to be the victim of intolerance. Based on best-selling novel by Laura Z. Hobson. DVD in the Music & Media Collections (2nd floor, east wing of the Library).

Avalon (1990)

The 1990 film “Avalon”, directed by Barry Levinson, tells a story of an immigrant family’s life who moved in the small town of Baltimore. Moving with a slow pace, the film incorporates warming, bittersweet, and heartbreaking moments of the Krichinsky family’s life—not to say a little bit of humor here and there. DVD in the Music & Media Collections (2nd floor, east wing of the Library).

 A Stranger Among Us (1992)

A female detective goes undercover in a community of New York City Hasidim, in hopes of solving the murder of a prominent Jewish jeweler. DVD available in the Music & Media Collections (2nd floor, east wing of the Library).


True to My God and Country : How Jewish Americans Fought in World War II by Francoise Ouzan

True to My God and Country explores the role of the more than half a million Jewish American men and women who served in the military in the Second World War. Patriotic Americans determined to fight, they served in every branch of the military and every theater of the war. Drawing on letters, diaries, interviews, and memoirs, True to My God and Country offers an intimate account of the soul-searching carried out by the young women and men who left home-and their Jewish neighborhoods-for the first time. Many encountered antisemitism among fellow members of the armed forces even as they fought the evils of Nazi Germany and its allies. True to My God and Country examines how for many the continual antisemitism from fellow soldiers and their interactions with Jewish communities overseas reinforced and bolstered connections to their own American Jewish identities. Read True to My God and Country online.

How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish by Ilan Stavans and Joshua N. Lambert

2020 Foreword INDIES Silver Winner for Anthologies Winner of the Canadian Jewish Literary Award (Yiddish). A momentous and diverse anthology of the influences and inspirations of Yiddish voices in America-radical, dangerous, and seductive, but also sweet, generous, and full of life-edited by award-winning authors and scholars Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert. Read How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish online.

All Together Different: Yiddish Socialists, Garment Workers, and the Labor Roots of Multiculturalism by Daniel Kats

In the early 1930’s, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) organized large numbers of Black and Hispanic workers through a broadly conceived program of education, culture, and community involvement. The ILGWU admitted these new members, the overwhelming majority of whom were women, into racially integrated local unions and created structures to celebrate ethnic differences. All Together Different revolves around this phenomenon of interracial union building and worker education during the Great Depression. Investigating why immigrant Jewish unionists in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) appealed to an international force of coworkers, Katz traces their ideology of a working-class based cultural pluralism, which Daniel Katz newly terms “mutual culturalism,” back to the revolutionary experiences of Russian Jewish women. These militant women and their male allies constructed an ethnic identity derived from Yiddish socialist tenets based on the principle of autonomous national cultures in the late nineteenth century Russian Empire. Built on original scholarship and bolstered by exhaustive research, All Together Different offers a fresh perspective on the nature of ethnic identity and working-class consciousness and contributes to current debates about the origins of multiculturalism. Read All Together Different: Yiddish Socialists, Garment Workers, and the Labor Roots of Multiculturalism online.

The Jewish Unions in America : Pages of History and Memories by Bernard Weinstein, translated by Maurice Wolfthal

Newly arrived in New York in 1882 from Tsarist Russia, the sixteen-year-old Bernard Weinstein discovered an America in which unionism, socialism, and anarchism were very much in the air. He found a home in the tenements of New York and for the next fifty years he devoted his life to the struggles of fellow Jewish workers. The Jewish Unions in America blends memoir and history to chronicle this time. It describes how Weinstein led countless strikes, held the unions together in the face of retaliation from the bosses, investigated sweatshops and factories with the aid of reformers, and faced down schisms by various factions, including Anarchists and Communists. He co-founded the United Hebrew Trades and wrote speeches, articles and books advancing the cause of the labor movement. From the pages of this book emerges a vivid picture of workers’ organizations at the beginning of the twentieth century and a capitalist system that bred exploitation, poverty, and inequality. Although workers’ rights have made great progress in the decades since, Weinstein’s descriptions of workers with jobs pitted against those without, and American workers against workers abroad, still carry echoes today. The Jewish Unions in America is a testament to the struggles of working people a hundred years ago. But it is also a reminder that workers must still battle to live decent lives in the free market. For the first time, Maurice Wolfthal’s readable translation makes Weinstein’s Yiddish text available to English readers. It is essential reading for students and scholars of labor history, Jewish history, and the history of American immigration. Read The Jewish Unions in America : Pages of History and Memories online, or borrow a print copy from the CSUN University Library.

Taking the Fight South : Chronicle of a Jew’s Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Howard Ball

Taking the Fight South provides a timely and telling reminder of the vigilance democracy requires if racial justice is to be fully realized. Distinguished historian and civil rights activist Howard Ball has written dozens of books during his career, including the landmark biography of Thurgood Marshall, A Defiant Life, and the critically acclaimed Murder in Mississippi, chronicling the Mississippi Burning killings. In Taking the Fight South, arguably his most personal book, Ball focuses on six years, from 1976 to 1982, when, against the advice of friends and colleagues in New York, he and his Jewish family moved from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi, where he received a tenured position in the political science department at Mississippi State University. The book will also appeal to readers interested in Judaism because of its depiction of anti-Semitism directed toward Starkville’s Jewish community, struggling to survive in the heart of the deep and very fundamentalist Protestant South. Read Taking the Fight South online.

Stepping into Zion : Hatzaad Harishon, Black Jews, and the Remaking of Jewish Identity by Janice W. Fernheimer

Considers the question “Who is a Jew?”— a critical rhetorical issue with far-reaching consequences for Jews and non-Jews alike Hatzaad Harishon (‘The First Step’) was a New York-based, multiracial Jewish organization that worked to increase recognition and legitimacy for Black Jews in the sixties and seventies. In Stepping into Zion, Janice W. Fernheimer examines the history and archives of Hatzaad Harishon to illuminate the shifting definitions and borders of Jewish identity, which have critical relevance to Jews of all traditions as well as to non-Jews. Fernheimer focuses on a period when Jewish identity was in flux and deeply influenced by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. In 1964, white and Black Jews formed Hatzaad Harishon to foster interaction and unity between Black and white Jewish communities. They raised the question of who or what constitutes Jewishness or Jewish identity, and in searching for an answer succeeded—both historically and rhetorically—in gaining increased recognition for Black Jews. Fernheimer traces how, despite deep disagreement over definitions, members of Hatzaad Harishon were able to create common ground in a process she terms ‘interruptive invention’: an incremental model for rhetorical success that allows different groups to begin and continue important but difficult discussions when they share little common ground or make unequal claims to institutional and discursive power, or when the nature of common ground is precisely what is at stake. Consequently, they provide a practical way out of the seemingly incommensurable stalemate incompatible worldviews present. Through insightful interpretations of Hatzaad Harishon’s archival materials, Fernheimer chronicles the group’s successes and failures within the larger rhetorical history of conflicts that emerge when cultural identities shift or expand. Read Stepping into Zion online.

We Are Not Strangers by Josh Tuininga

We Are Not Strangers explores a unique situation of Japanese and Jewish Americans living side by side in a country at war. Marco Calvo always knew his grandfather, affectionately called Papoo, was a good man. After all, he was named for him. A first-generation Jewish immigrant, Papoo was hardworking, smart, and caring. When Papoo peacefully passes away, Marco expects the funeral to be simple. However, he is caught off guard by something unusual. Among his close family and friends are mourners he doesn’t recognize–Japanese American families–and no one is quite sure who they are or why they are at the service. How did these strangers know his grandfather so well? Find We are Not Strangers in print in the CSUN Library collection.

Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States by Laura Limonic

Kugel and Frijoles: Latino Jews in the United States analyzes the changing construction of race and ethnicity in the United States through the lens of contemporary Jewish immigrants from Latin America. Since Latino Jews are not easily classified within the U.S. racial and ethnic schema, their ethnic identity and group affiliation challenge existing paradigms. Author Laura Limonic offers a view into the lives of this designation of Jewish immigrants, highlighting the ways in which they adopt different identities (e.g., national, religious, or panethnic) in response to different actors and situations. Limonic begins by introducing the stories of Latino Jewish immigrants and laying out the important questions surrounding ethnic identity: How do Latino Jews identify? Can they choose their identity or is it assigned to them? How is ethnicity strategic or instrumental? These larger questions are placed within the existing scholarly literature on immigrant integration, religion, and ethnic group construction. Limonic explains how groups can be constructed when there is a lack of a perfect host group and details the ways different factors influence ethnic identity and shape membership into ethnic groups. The book concludes that group construction is never static in the United States, and, in particular, how race, religion, and class are increasingly important mediating factors in defining ethnicity and ethnic identity. As the Latino population continues to grow in the United States, so does the influence of millions of Latinos on U.S. culture, politics, economy, and social structure. Kugel and Frijoles offers new insight with which to understand the diversity of Latinos, the incorporation of contemporary Jewish immigrants, and the effect of U.S. ethno-racial structures for immigrant assimilation. Read Kugel and Frijoles online.

Wild Vision­ary: Mau­rice Sendak in Queer Jew­ish Context by Golan Y. Moskowitz

Wild Visionary reconsiders Maurice Sendak’s life and work in the context of his experience as a Jewish gay man. Maurice (Moishe) Bernard Sendak (1928–2012) was a fierce, romantic, and shockingly funny truth seeker who intervened in modern literature and culture. Raising the stakes of children’s books, Sendak painted childhood with the dark realism and wild imagination of his own sensitive’inner child,’drawing on the queer and Yiddish sensibilities that shaped his singular voice. Interweaving literary biography and cultural history, Golan Y. Moskowitz follows Sendak from his parents’ Brooklyn home to spaces of creative growth and artistic vision—from neighborhood movie palaces to Hell’s Kitchen, Greenwich Village, Fire Island, and the Connecticut country home he shared with Eugene Glynn, his partner of more than fifty years. Further, he analyzes Sendak’s investment in the figure of the endangered child in symbolic relation to collective touchstones that impacted the artist’s perspective—the Great Depression, the Holocaust, and the AIDS crisis. Through a deep exploration of Sendak’s picture books, interviews, and previously unstudied personal correspondence, Wild Visionary offers a sensitive portrait of the most beloved and enchanting picture-book artist of our time. Read Wild Visionary online.

The Jews’ Indian : Colonialism, Pluralism, and Belonging in America by David S. Koffman

The Jews’ Indian investigates the history of American Jewish relationships with Native Americans, both in the realm of cultural imagination and in face-to-face encounters. These two groups’ exchanges were numerous and diverse, proving at times harmonious when Jews’ and Natives people’s economic and social interests aligned, but discordant and fraught at other times. American Jews could be as exploitative of Native cultural, social, and political issues as other American settlers, and historian David Koffman argues that these interactions both unsettle and historicize the often triumphant consensus history of American Jewish life. Focusing on the ways Jewish class mobility and civic belonging were wrapped up in the dynamics of power and myth making that so severely impacted Native Americans, this books is provocative and timely, the first history to critically analyze Jewish participation in, and Jews’ grappling with the legacies of Native American history and the colonial project upon which America rests. Read The Jews’ Indian online or find a print copy in the CSUN Library.

The Jews of Summer : Summer Camp and Jewish Culture in Postwar America by Sandra Fox

In the decades directly following the Holocaust, American Jewish leaders anxiously debated how to preserve and produce what they considered authentic Jewish culture, fearful that growing affluence and suburbanization threatened the future of Jewish life. Many communal educators and rabbis contended that without educational interventions, Judaism as they understood it would disappear altogether. They pinned their hopes on residential summer camps for Jewish youth: institutions that sprang up across the U.S. in the postwar decades as places for children and teenagers to socialize, recreate, and experience Jewish culture. Adults’ fears, hopes, and dreams about the Jewish future inflected every element of camp life, from the languages they taught to what was encouraged romantically and permitted sexually. But adult plans did not constitute everything that occurred at camp: children and teenagers also shaped these sleepaway camps to mirror their own desires and interests and decided whether to accept or resist the ideas and ideologies their camp leaders promoted. Focusing on the lived experience of campers and camp counselors, The Jews of Summer demonstrates how a cultural crisis birthed a rite of passage that remains a significant influence in American Jewish life. Read The Jews of Summer online.