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Guest Post: Diversity Needs Jewish Books

By Heidi Rabinowitz, Susan Kusel, and Rebecca Levitan. Association of Jewish Libraries

The trend towards increased diversity in literature for youth is long overdue and very welcome. Readers today have more opportunities to see themselves represented and to learn about others, bringing more understanding to a fractured world. We need diverse books about people from different races, cultures, gender identities, sexualities, physical and mental abilities, and religions. In particular, we need window and mirror books about Judaism.

It’s estimated that 12-20% of US Jews are African American, Latino/Hispanic, Asian, Sephardic, Mizrahi and mixed race. Many other Jews present as white. Some Jews are visibly identifiable by dress, while others can “pass” as non-Jewish. But no matter what Jewish people look like, where they come from, or how they choose to participate in Jewish practice, all can become targets of prejudice simply because of their Jewish identity.

According to the 2019 FBI data, 60.2% of religious hate crimes that year were committed against Jews, outpacing all other victimized religions by a wide margin. The next highest number is anti-Muslim crimes at 13.2%. Jews are only 2% of the U.S. population but are the victims of 1 out of 7 of all hate crimes. 

People hate what they don’t understand. We know that books counter hate through education and by creating empathy, so excellent Jewish books are crucial to creating a better society. As with all books identified as “diverse,” children’s books about Jews serve as mirrors for young people growing up as part of a society in which they are a tiny minority, and as windows for the vast numbers of readers who have little to no personal encounters with Judaism. 

Judaism has existed for thousands of years, and has a rich and varied culture and history offering many entry points for fascinating children’s literature, both fiction and nonfiction. Our presentation gives you tools for identifying desirable topics in the genre, for reaching the Jewish market (for a small minority, Jews buy a lot of books!), and for achieving Jewish authenticity on the page whether through #ownvoices creation or through solid research. 

CBC Member employees can watch the full workshop here.

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