Sunday, October 2, 2011

Recommended Reading IV: Memoirs and History

We have but a few non-fiction books remaining on the list, two memoirs and one history.   Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky details the creation of the Yiddish Book Center. Outwitting History tells of the early days when Lansky, then a graduate student, set out on a mission to save Yiddish books about to go to the dumpster.  He loaded his truck with books that few could actually read, believing there was a larger purpose in their preservation. The immigrants who called him would often feed him and tell him stories of their early life which adds considerably to the flavor of this book.  Today the Yiddish Book Center has over one million Yiddish books, has helped establish Yiddish collections at many libraries and makes them available to the public digitally.

The other memoir on the list is The Jew Store by Stella Suberman which seems like an odd name for a book, but in fact was what stores run by Jews in the South were often called.  I read this after I had read the Help and it provided yet another view of the South, the experience of being the only Jewish family in town forced to confront the racism towards the black population while trying to become part of the community in which you live.  Suberman’s father, a Russian Jewish immigrant established a store in a small town in Tennessee.  In 1920 they were the first Jewish family the town had encountered and over time came to think of it as home.  After eleven years they returned to New York largely out of concern that there was no Jewish community within which their children could marry.

I am currently reading a book that was recommended by one of the lecturers at the International Jewish Genealogy Conference.  Titled the History of the Jews in Russia and Poland by Simon Markovich Dubnow, it is a three volume work translated from Russian.  I dove into volume two which covers the 1800s, the period in which I was particularly interested.  This is supposed to be the definitive work on this topic and it is an eye-opening and interesting read, not at all hampered by the shift from another language and time.  As I was listening to the lecture, I went in on my netbook to the library and ordered it so it would be waiting on my return.  The second volume of the book was available, published in 1918, it details a period in time without the prescience of events yet to come.  The library book smelled musty and came with a library card detailing the first check out in 1926.  This must be what people who abhor electronic readers refer to when they say they like the smell and feel of a book.  Nonetheless I was thinking there were passages I’d like to mark and it dawned on me that Amazon might just have the book available electronically, something that hadn’t originally occurred to me because of the age of the book.  Much to my delight, not only was it available, but it was free.  If you prefer to get all of the volumes in hard copy you can get the three volume bound set through Avotaynu.  I highly recommend this book for any family historian exploring Jewish ancestry as it creates the historical context within which our families lived.

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