Category Archives: Writers & Scholars

Jews in the Wonderful World of Literature and Scholarship

Jew of the Week: Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was born in New York City. Her father came from a Jewish family that immigrated from Germany, while her mother was from an illustrious Sephardic-Portuguese family that settled in America before the Revolution. Lazarus studied literature and language, speaking German, French, and Italian. She became a famous poet, novelist, and playwright; one of the first successful Jewish-American authors. Her first book of poetry was published when she was just 17 years old, and she went on to collaborate with such great writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lazarus was also an influential social activist. Her first cause was fighting for tax reform and fairer distribution of land. After hearing of the violent pogroms in Russia, she advocated strongly on behalf of Russian Jews and helped settle Jewish refugees in New York. Lazarus worked for the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society, training impoverished immigrants and helping them find work. She also co-founded the Hebrew Technical Institute to educate Jewish refugees. Meanwhile, Lazarus argued passionately for the creation of a Jewish state in Israel – thirteen years before Theodor Herzl arrived on the scene! (For this, among other reasons, she was once described as the “fiery prophet of the American Jewish community.”) Lazarus is undoubtedly most famous for her poem “The New Colossus”, which she wrote to raise money for the construction of the Statue of Liberty. The sonnet’s powerful words – familiar to most Americans – have inspired many, and have been quoted by leaders like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. Two decades after she first wrote it, the poem was etched onto a bronze plaque at the base of the Statue. It has been said that the poem transformed the Statue into a symbol of immigration and freedom, and defined “the American vision of liberty”. Sadly, Lazarus did not live to see this day. She tragically died at the young age of 38, from lymphoma. She has since been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Words of the Week

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
– From “The New Colossus”, by Emma Lazarus

Plaque of the “The New Colossus” in the Statue of Liberty

Jew of the Week: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Renee Krouse Rosenthal (1965-2017) was born in Chicago and studied at Tufts University. A naturally creative and spiritual person, she described herself simply as “a person who likes to make things”. After working in advertising for nine years, Rosenthal decided to pursue her passion and becoming a writer. She published her first book in 1998 and went on to write 30 more, most of them children’s books. Many were New York Times Bestsellers, and Rosenthal is the only author to have three children’s books on the list of Best Children’s Books for Family Literacy in the same year. Her book Duck! Rabbit! was read publicly at the White House in 2010, and her adult book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life was named one of the top ten memoirs of the decade. She also published 10 journals and created many short films, several of which went viral. Rosenthal was often seen at TED talks, designing three conferences and speaking at another three. She wrote for a number of newspapers and magazines as well, including Parenting, The Oprah Magazine, and The New York Times. It was in the latter publication that she wrote an essay earlier this month revealing┬áthat she had terminal cancer. The essay was written in the style of a dating profile for her husband – with whom she fell in love on the first (blind) date – for him to find a new love once she would inevitably pass away. Sadly, this would be her last creation to go viral. Rosenthal tragically succumbed to her cancer last week.

Words of the Week

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?
Thornton Wilder (This was Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s favourite quote.)