Jewish Book Council

Jewish Book Council

The Jewish Book Council, founded in 1944, is an organization encouraging and contributing to Jewish literature.[1][2] The goal of the council, as stated on its website, is "to promote the reading, writing and publishing of quality English language books of Jewish content in North America".[2] It is the only US based organization devoted exclusively to promoting Jewish literature.[2] The council sponsors the National Jewish Book Awards, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the Jewish Book NETWORK, a birthright trip focused in journalism and literature, and Jewish Book Month. It publishes Jewish Book World.[2]

As of January 1, 1994 the Jewish Book Council broke off from the JCC Association and became an independent not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation chartered in the State of New York.[2] Its primary support is from individuals, and from organizations and foundations in the Jewish community.[2]



The Council's origins date back to 1925, when Fanny Goldstein, a librarian at the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, set up an exhibit of Judaic books as a focus of what she called Jewish Book Week. In l927, with the assistance of Rabbi S. Felix Mendelsohn of Chicago, Jewish communities around the country adopted the event.

Jewish Book Week proved so successful that in 1940 the National Committee for Jewish Book Week was founded, with Fanny Goldstein as its chairperson. Dr. Mordecai Soltes succeeded her one year later. Representatives of major American Jewish organizations served on this committee, as did groups interested in promulgating Yiddish and Hebrew literature.

Jewish Book Week activities proliferated and were extended to a one-month period in 1943. At the same time, the National Committee for Jewish Book Week became the Jewish Book Council, reflecting its broader scope. In March of the following year, the National Jewish Welfare Board, which would ultimately become the Jewish Community Centers Association, entered into an agreement with the Book Council to become its official sponsor and coordinating organization, providing financial support and organizational assistance. This arrangement reflected the realization that local JCCs were the primary site of community book fairs.

While under the auspices of JCC association, the Jewish Book Council maintained an executive board, composed of representatives from major American Jewish organizations and leading figures in the literary world.

The Jewish Book Council Today

On January 1, l994, the Jewish Book Council became an autonomous organization. This was precipitated by a JCC Association decision to cease all funding and organizational assistance. Convinced that the Jewish Book Council remained essential to the People of the Book, the Council's executive board voted to create an independent entity. The new organization is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation chartered in the State of New York. It is supported, to a large degree, by dedicated and interested individuals and foundations in the Jewish community.

Jewish Book World

Jewish Book World is a quarterly magazine devoted to the promotion of books of Jewish interest. As the only magazine of its kind, Jewish Book World provides its readers and advertisers with an invaluable service. Jewish Book World reaches over 5,000 readers with a specific interest in Jewish books, including library professionals, book festival coordinators, book group members, academicians, and lay leaders. The magazine is a tool to help them learn about new books of Jewish interest and make informed reading choices. Often called "the Publishers Weekly of Jewish literature," Jewish Book World brings the world of Jewish books to interested readers.

Jewish Book World began as a twelve-page pamphlet that was circulated to Jewish Community Centers, featuring short blurbs on approximately 50 new books of Jewish interest. In 1994, Jewish Book World expanded from a pamphlet to a full-length magazine that was published three times a year. This publication now appears quarterly and includes reviews of over 120 books per issue, updates on literary events and industry news, author profiles, and articles on the world of Jewish books.

National Jewish Book Awards

The National Jewish Book Awards is the longest-running North American awards program of its kind in the field of Jewish literature and is recognized as the most prestigious. The awards, presented by category, are designed to give recognition to outstanding books, to stimulate writers to further literary creativity and to encourage the reading of worthwhile titles.

The National Jewish Book Awards program began in 1948 when the Jewish Book Council presented awards to authors of Jewish books at its annual meeting. The first book awarded the prize was Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Harry Austryn Wolfson. Among the past notable literary winners are Howard Fast, Chaim Grade, Samuel Heilman, John Hersey, Bernard Malamud, Cynthia Ozick, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, I.B. Singer, and Elie Wiesel.

In addition to the category awards, every year since 2002, one non-fiction book has been selected as the winner of the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award. The past three winners have been Dr. Michael Oren, Dr. Jonathan Sarna and Dr. Amos Oz. With such prominent, influential thinkers participating in the program, the awards have a significant impact on American Jewish cultural life.

Jewish Book NETWORK

The Jewish Book NETWORK is a membership organization of close to 100 participating sites, JCCs, synagogues, Hillels, Jewish Federations and other related organizations that host Jewish book programs. Through the NETWORK, the Jewish Book Council is able to provide extensive resources to the program coordinators, including introduction to authors interested in touring Jewish book festivals, advice from experts on topics that affect a book program, and a chance to learn from the experiences of others in the field.

Jewish books are an essential part of Jewish culture. Programming for Jewish book events is a vital component. In recent years, the Jewish book festivals have grown into a $3 million industry. The Jewish Book NETWORK goes a long way towards assisting in the preparation of successful events and connecting authors of Jewish interest books with the coordinators of these programs.

The Jewish Book Council formed the Jewish Book NETWORK in 1999 to serve as a central address for book programming. It functions on a year-round basis, although the primary focus remains on the Fall Jewish Book Month season. The Jewish Book Council assists with program suggestions and coordinates the speaking tours of more than 160 authors who travel country-wide during the Fall season and throughout the year. The Jewish Book Council annually prepares a book providing information about the authors on tour.

Each year the Jewish Book Council sponsors a conference for all Jewish Book NETWORK members and their lay leaders in conjunction with the annual BookExpo America. This conference begins the new season of book festival planning. In addition to workshops and networking among the NETWORK members, the annual conference includes a program called Meet the Author. Through this event, authors are invited to speak to the members of the Jewish Book NETWORK in the hopes of touring and visiting with the Jewish book programs that are represented. Among the authors who were sponsored in the past are Warren Bass, Rich Cohen, Nathan Englander, Samuel G. Freedman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Myla Goldberg, Ari L. Goldman, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Dara Horn, David Horowitz, Dr. Eric Kandel, Nicole Krauss, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Aaron Lansky, Daniel Libeskind, Tova Mirvis, Dr. Deborah Dash Moore, Judea Pearl, Naomi Ragen, Nessa Rapoport, Shulamit Reinharz, Steve Roberts, Jonathan Rosen, Ambassador Dennis Ross, and Dr. Jonathan Sarna.

Sami Rohr Prize

In 2006, in celebration of Sami Rohr's 80th birthday, his children and grandchildren inaugurated the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature to honor his lifelong love of Jewish writing.

The annual award recognizes the unique role of contemporary writers in the transmission and examination of Jewish values, and is intended to encourage and promote outstanding writing of Jewish interest.

Each year, the prize of $100,000 will aim to reward an emerging writer whose work has demonstrated a fresh vision and evidence of future potential. It is among the richest literary prizes in the world. Recipients must have written a book of exceptional literary merit that stimulates an interest in themes of Jewish concern. Fiction and non-fiction books will be considered in alternate years.

In conjunction with this award, the Rohr family has established the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute, a forum devoted to the continuity of Jewish literature.

The Prize and Institute will be coordinated and administered under the exclusive auspices of the Jewish Book Council. Winners will be selected by an independent panel of judges.

Jewish Book Exhibitors Association

The Jewish Book Exhibitors Association (JBEA) serves as a vehicle for publishers of Jewish-interest books to promote their titles in new arenas. JBEA offers all publishers an opportunity to submit Jewish-interest titles to the Jewish Book Council to be displayed at large conferences covered for the Jewish community, such as the EXPO at the annual summer conference for the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) or the biennial Jerusalem International Book Fair. Through JBEA, each submitted title is publicized directly to thousands of conference participants specifically searching for titles of Jewish-interest to enhance their personal or professional libraries.

Publishers of a limited number of Jewish interest books may find it neither efficient nor feasible to reserve a space at national conventions. JBEA, a division of the Jewish Book Council, serves as a center for a coordinated exhibit at all major conferences.

All publishers are eligible to avail themselves of the opportunity to reach thousands of new readers through this service.


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