For the past 64 years, the Jewish Book Council has spotlighted the best of Jewish books and their authors through its presentation of the annual National Jewish Book Award. On March 5, the winners in nearly 20 categories of Jewish books will assemble at the Center for Jewish History in New York City for a celebratory gathering.
“I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude,” said journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, author of Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation (Harper) which received the Jewish Book of the Year Award from the council.
Like Dreamers portrays the lives of seven Israeli paratroopers, some from the political right and others from the left, and the nexus of the 1967 Six-Day War that simultaneously galvanized them and tore them asunder in so many respects.
“I feel like I’ve been writing this book since I was 17,” said Halevi, who was born in 1953.
“I wanted to give American Jews a deeper connection to this story of our nation; I wanted to present the real story to them. And who is my ideal audience? Someone like myself. If I hadn’t made aliyah, I would still be as passionate about Israel as I was as a youth growing up in Brooklyn.”
Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a second-wave feminist icon turned fiery voice for Israel’s survival, is another Brooklyn native who was recognized with a National Jewish Book Award honor. An American Bride in Kabul (Palgrave Macmillan), a searing and powerful account of her youthful romance with a Westernized Muslim man from Afghanistan whom she met while attending college in New York and her subsequent captivity in his native Kabul, won in the Biography, Autobiography, Memoir category.
Raised as an Orthodox Jew in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, Chesler rebelled at a young age. An American Bride chronicles her harrowing experience being held against her will by her husband and his devoutly Muslim family more than 50 years ago.
She noted the “eerie coincidence” that Afghanistan “is the country where I was once held hostage; it is the country which sheltered [Osama] Bin Laden after he was exiled from Saudi Arabia and Sudan; he hatched his 9/11 plot in an Afghan cave,” while now “the entire civilian world is being held hostage by al Qaeda and al Qaeda-like jihadists.”
“Israel and the Western democracies,” she added, “are all up against tribal cultures whose values are very different from our own. It is crucial for us to understand what those differences are.”
Chesler is no stranger to taking on controversial subjects in her writing. Her first book, Women and Madness, was published in 1972 to critical acclaim and sold close to three million copies. Her other books include bestsellers such as The New Anti-Semitism (2003) and The Death of Feminism (2005).
Sharing her initial feelings on learning that An American Bride in Kabul had been honored by the Jewish Book Council, Chesler said she “was pleased, proud, satisfied, and very surprised…. Now that I’ve received the 2013 National Jewish Book Award, together with so many other truly distinguished authors, I feel daunted, sober. I feel the weight of responsibility even more.”