Yiddish in American Life

A Reading List for Jewish American Heritage Month 2024

If it’s May it must be Jewish American Heritage Month! The Yiddish Book Center is proud to join with a host of organizations across the United States to celebrate the many contributions Jews have made to American history and culture. Curious to learn more about the role Yiddish has played and continues to play in American life? Here’s a suggested reading list of eighteen books across different genres perfect to get you started or take a deeper dive. (In alphabetical order by author.) 

A Revolution in Type: Gender and the Making of the American Yiddish Press, by Ayelet Brinn 

A Revolution in Type book cover

In this new scholarly but accessible volume, Brinn shows that instead of framing issues of gender as marginal, we must view them as central to understanding how the American Yiddish press developed into the influential, complex, and diverse field it eventually became. 



The Yiddish Policeman’s Union: A Novel, by Michael Chabon 

A red, white, and blue illustrated book cover

This modern classic of alternative history imagines a Yiddish-speaking metropolis in Sitka, Alaska. A gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption by one of America’s leading writers. 



Unterzakhn, by Leela Corman 

Illustration of four women on a book cover

A mesmerizing, heartbreaking graphic novel of immigrant life on New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of twin sisters whose lives take radically and tragically different paths. 



Proletpen: America’s Rebel Yiddish Poets, edited by Amelia Glaser and David Weintraub, translated by Amelia Glaser 

Sepia photograph of a city street on a book cover

This groundbreaking anthology translates for the first time a little-known body of poetry by American Yiddish authors on the left from the 1920s to the early 1950s. 



Have I Got a Story for You: More Than a Century of Fiction from the Forward, edited by Ezra Glinter 

Orange and blue book cover

Ezra Glinter has combed through the archives of America’s greatest Yiddish newspaper to find the best stories published during its 120-year history, digging up such varied works as wartime novellas, avant-garde fiction, and satirical sketches about immigrant life in New York. 



Blessed Hands: Stories by Frume Halpern, translated by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub 

Black and white illustration of hands book cover

These psychologically insightful stories by leftist Yiddish writer Frume Halpern present the lives of protagonists who are working-class poor, social outcasts, and experiencing illness, disability, and racism. 



Raising Secular Jews: Yiddish Schools and Their Periodicals for American Children, 1917–1950, by Naomi Prawer Kadar 

Raising Secular Jews book cover

This unique literary study of Yiddish children’s periodicals casts new light on secular Yiddish schools in America in the first half of the twentieth century. Naomi Kadar shows how secular immigrant Jews sought to pass on their identity and values as they prepared their youth to become full-fledged Americans. 



Diary of a Lonely Girl, or the Battle Against Free Love, by Miriam Karpilove, translated by Jessica Kirzane 

Book cover with a portrait of a woman

In Jessica Kirzane’s masterful translation, Miriam Karpilove’s novel offers a snarky, melodramatic, feminist criticism of radical leftist immigrant youth culture in early twentieth-century New York City. 



Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub 

Book cover with an illustration of a child

Bold, captivating stories by a nearly forgotten modernist Yiddish writer. As the translators write, “imagine reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the conversational touch of Grace Paley.” 



She Sold Her Husband and Other Satirical Sketches, by Sam Liptzin, translated by Zeke Levine 

She Sold Her Husband book cover

Sam Liptzin—also known as Feter Shepsl, Uncle Sam, and Kvikzilber (Quicksilver)—was a self-proclaimed “radical humorist.” Writing through the 1970s, Liptzin published twenty-eight volumes of short stories, poems, and aphorisms. This volume contains twenty-one sketches. 



The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come, by Sue Macy and Stacy Innerst 

A collage of illustrations of people

The story of the Yiddish Book Center’s founder and president, Aaron Lansky, told in a delightful folkloric style. Winner of the American Library Association’s 2020 Sydney Taylor Gold Medal Award for children’s and young adult literature on the Jewish experience. And for older readers, don’t forget to check out Aaron Lansky’s story in his award-winning memoir Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books



A Jewish Refugee in New York: A Novel by Kadya Molodovsky, translated by Anita Norich 

Three photographs on a red background

Rivke Zilberg, a twenty-year-old Jewish woman, arrives in New York shortly after the Nazi invasion of Poland, her home country. Struggling to learn a new language and cope with a different way of life in the United States, Rivke finds herself keeping a journal about the challenges and opportunities of this new land. 



Klezmer: Music and Community in Twentieth-Century Jewish Philadelphia, by Hankus Netsky

Book cover with a black and white photograph of a band on stage

Klezmer presents a lively and detailed overview of the folk musical tradition as practiced in Philadelphia’s twentieth-century Jewish community. Through interviews, archival research, and recordings, Hankus Netsky constructs an ethnographic portrait of Philadelphia’s Jewish musicians, the environment they worked in, and the repertoire they performed at local Jewish lifestyle and communal celebrations. 



How Yiddish Changed America and How America Changed Yiddish, edited by Ilan Stavans and Josh Lambert 

A blue book cover with an illustration of a pickle jar

As the editors write: “Yiddish is so deeply woven into the fabric of the United States that it can sometimes be difficult to recognize how much it has transformed the world we live in today.” This wide-ranging collection of essays, stories, poems, interviews, and more proves just that! 



American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York, by Nomi M. Stolzenberg and David N. Myers 

Book cover with an image of a man walking in a parking lot

Settled in the mid-1970s by a small contingent of Hasidic families, Kiryas Joel is an American town with few parallels in Jewish history―but many precedents among religious communities in the United States. This book tells the story of how this group of pious, Yiddish-speaking Jews has grown to become a thriving, insular enclave and a powerful local government in upstate New York. 



Writings on Yiddish and Yiddishkayt: The War Years, 1939–1945, by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated and edited by David Stromberg 

A blue book cover with an illustration of a pair of glasses

Featuring twenty-five carefully curated essays (selected from over 150) written from just before the start of World War II through its immediate aftermath and originally published in the Yiddish Forward, this volume presents the writing and thought of the Nobel laureate when he was still relatively unknown. Published by the Center’s imprint, White Goat Press.



Joe the Waiter, by Y.Y. Zevin, translated by Dan Setzer 

A red book cover with an illustration of a waiter

Newly translated by Dan Setzer, this is a collection of humorous vignettes by Y. Y. Zevin (1872–1926) depicting New York Jewish life at the turn of the twentieth century. Published by the Center’s imprint, White Goat Press.




Make sure to check out the audio version of many of these sketches, produced by the Center and narrated by Yiddish actor Mikhl Yashinsky.