Jewish Book Award Winners Have Philadelphia Ties

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This post has been updated to include information regarding Kenneth D. Wald.

The Jewish Book Council announced the winners of the National Jewish Book Awards on Jan. 15, selected by more than 100 judges from various walks of Jewish life. The awards, which are in their 69th year, will be given out at a ceremony in March.

Awardees included Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt, who won the Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion and Iden­ti­ty Award in Mem­o­ry of Dorothy Krip­ke for her book “Anti­semitism: Here and Now”; Bari Weiss, whose book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” won the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Life and Prac­tice in Mem­o­ry of Myra H. Kraft; and Etgar Keret, whose story collection “Fly Already” won the JJ Green­berg Memo­r­i­al Award Michael for Fic­tion.
Two writers with local connections won awards as well.

book cover
(Courtesy of Riverheard Books)

Sarah Blake’s novel “Naamah,” praised by just about everywhere there’s literary praise to be had, won the Gold­berg Prize for Debut Fiction. Still, the win came as a shock.

“They had reached out on Instagram, saying they had a question for me. When they called, I was waiting for that question so earnestly that when they told me I’d won the award, I couldn’t even quite process it,” Blake said. “I remember hardly being able to speak and I probably repeated a few half sentences as I stumbled into understanding. At one point, I definitely said, ‘I’m so verklempt,’ and then laughed about how appropriate that was.”
Blake’s novel revisits the story of Noah’s ark to tell the story of his wife, Naamah.

The writer grew up in South Jersey. Her great-grandparents immigrated to Philadelphia and raised 11 children, one of whom was Blake’s grandfather. Blake spent countless days in the city, visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art and enjoying family dinners. When she had her son, she moved to the Main Line for seven years.

“I live in the U.K. now, and I miss it terribly,” she said.

Book cover
(Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Co.)

Pamela S. Nadell holds the Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History at American University and is director of its Jewish Studies Program. Her book, “America’s Jew­ish Women: A His­to­ry from Colo­nial Times to Today,” won the Jewish Book of the Year, presented by the Everett Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion.

“I am overwhelmed and amazingly excited and gratified to have been recognized with this tremendous honor,” she said. “For almost my entire career, I’ve thought about writing it, and to see it win that kind of recognition — it’s what everybody dreams of, right?”

Nadell, though not an area native, was one of a small group of historians that created the core exhibition of the National Museum of American Jewish History. She spent a decade going back and forth between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, and the work she did for the museum remains one of her most treasured achievements. And decades earlier, for her book on the history of Conservative Judaism, she conducted archival research into the Jewish Exponent.

“But that was a long time ago,” she laughed. “We’re going back, like, 35 years.”

The list of winners also included Robert Alter, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award for his English translation of the Bible, written over decades; Kenneth D. Wald, who won the American Jewish Studies Award for “The Foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can Jew­ish Liberalism”; Alice Hoffman, whose book “The World That We Knew” was the recip­i­ent of the Miller Fam­i­ly Book Club Award in Mem­o­ry of Helen Dunn Wein­stein and June Keit Miller; Dani Shapiro, who won the Krauss Fam­i­ly Auto­bi­og­ra­phy & Mem­oir Award for her mem­oir, “Inher­itance: A Mem­oir of Geneal­o­gy, Pater­ni­ty, and Love”; and András Koern­er, who won the inaugural Jane and Stu­art Weitz­man Fam­i­ly Award for Food Writ­ing and Cook­books for “Jew­ish Cui­sine in Hun­gary: A Cul­tur­al His­to­ry with 83 Authen­tic Recipes.”

Wald, who is from Nebraska, did “a fair amount of research” for his book at the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Other winners were David E. Lowe, who won the Biog­ra­phy Award in Mem­o­ry of Sara Beren­son Stone for his book “Touched with Fire: Mor­ris B. Abram and the Bat­tle against Racial and Reli­gious Dis­crim­i­na­tion”; Michael Dobbs, whose book “The Unwant­ed: Amer­i­ca, Auschwitz, and a Vil­lage Caught In Between” won Holo­caust Award in Mem­o­ry of Ernest W. Michel; and Rachel DeWoskin, who won the Young Adult Award for her book “Someday We
Will Fly.”

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