Back when I was in in my late twenties, I sat down with each of my parents and a tape recorder. I was a budding journalist writing for TIME Magazine’s Detroit bureau and for the Detroit Free Press Sunday Magazine, visiting my hometown of Columbus for the birth of my nephew. My parents talked about their experiences before and during the Holocaust: my mother living in a village in eastern Poland, my father and his parents living in the 16th district in Vienna. I wanted to understand more about their journeys that brought each of them (Mom in 1947, Dad in 1938) to America and to Ellis Island. Mom ended up first in Atlantic City, then Columbus; Dad’s family spent three months in New York City before choosing to relocate to Columbus. Their journeys became inspirations for my first two novels, Tasa’s Song and A Ritchie Boy.
So, the month of May, Jewish Heritage Month, is a deeply personal celebration for me as a first-generation American Jew. The designation, established in 2006 by Congressional resolution and Presidential proclamation, commemorated May as a national month of recognition of the history of Jewish contributions to American culture, acknowledging the diverse achievement of the Jewish community in the U.S. In schools and classrooms, Jewish American Heritage Month is a time to explore the Jewish experience—including the history, culture, and achievements of Jewish people as well as the antisemitism that has been faced by Jewish people throughout history. At Gramercy Books, we are displaying a variety of books that illustrate these topics, including One Hundred Saturdays by Michael Frank, MADAM: The Biography of Polly Adler by Debby Applegate, the 75th anniversary edition of The Diary of a Young Girl, Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships by Nina Totenberg, Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner, and The Light of Days by Judy Batalion, among others.
Another reason I connect with Jewish Heritage Month is because of my upcoming novel, Bessie. Drawing on biographical and historical sources, Bessie reimagines the early life of Bess Myerson, the talented daughter of poor Russian Jewish immigrants, who, in the bigoted milieu of 1945, remarkably rises to become Miss America. This intimate fictional portrait reveals Myerson’s inner struggles to escape her roots and fulfill her fierce desire to make her mark on the world. One of the ways she did so was in becoming the voice against hate, joining with the Anti-Defamation League’s Brotherhood Campaign in 1946 where she told crowds, “You can’t be beautiful and hate.” The stories of Jewish Americans, like Bess Myerson, have been plagued with disturbing surges of bigotry and antisemitism, and the ADL has been working tirelessly since its founding in 1913 to try to build a safer future for American Jews.
Written by Linda Kass
About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications and am now an assistant editor for Narrative, an online literary magazine. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War. My second historical novel, A Ritchie Boy, was inspired by my immigrant father's role as a military intelligence office in World War II. My third novel, Bessie, a fictional portrait of Bess Myerson's early life, will be released in September of 2023. I am also the proud owner of Gramercy Books, serving all of central Ohio!
Learn more about me on my personal website.