"People of the Books" Blog

AJL 2020 Conference Update: February 26

AJL 2020 conference logo

Due to the COVID-19 virus, the in-person conference has been canceled and a new virtual conference is being designed.


AJL Conference Update

by Marcie Eskin & Rachel Kamin
February 26, 2020


Sunday, June 28, 2020

ALA conference header

In anticipation of the Association of Jewish Libraries Conference and the American Library Association Annual Conference both taking place in Chicagoland this summer, AJL has put together two programs at ALA on Sunday, June 28, 2020. We would love to see AJL well-represented at ALA! We encourage you to schedule your arrival in Chicago to attend at least one full day of ALA and join us at one or both of these exciting events. Note that our AJL conference rate at the Hilton Orrington Evanston of $159/night (plus taxes) is available beginning Sunday, June 28.

Combating Antisemitism and Islamophobia with Multicultural Children’s Literature

10:00 AM (Location TBD)

Joint Presentation sponsored by The Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) & the Association of Jewish Libraries

With the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia, the need to break down stereotypes is more urgent than ever. This panel will offer an overview of "mirror and window" children's books that give readers a better understanding of Jewish and Muslim cultures. Experts in Judaic and Muslim kidlit, including AJL’s own Susan Kusel and Heidi Rabinowitz along with Sadaf Siddique and Gauri Manglik from Kitaab World, will share the history and current state of each genre, introduce specific titles, and discuss issues common to publishing while a minority.

A Little Schmooze. A Little Nosh: A Little Chat. A Little Food.

Late afternoon, Time & Location TBD

Join the Association of Jewish Libraries at our third Schmooze & Nosh event! Meet members of AJL's Board and Council, network with Jewish librarians from around the country and listen to publishers and authors discuss their upcoming work, all while noshing on delicious kosher refreshments! This event will take place in a nearby ALA Hotel. Additional details will be provided as soon as we receive them.

ALA Exhibit Hall

Take advantage of the enormous number of exhibitors who participate at the ALA Annual Conference. Exhibits Only Badges are available that include access to the exhibits on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Note: the discounted early bird deadline ends on March 15. 

ALA Annual Conference

The majority of the conference will take place in the McCormick Place Convention CenterSome sessions will occur at various, nearby hotels. Detailed location information for sessions will be available when the Scheduler opens. McCormick place is 16 miles south of the Hilton Orrington Hotel (approximately 30-40 minutes by car or cab). Public transportation is also available but could take up to 90 minutes and does involve some walking.

While badges will not be necessary to attend “Combating Antisemitism and Islamophobia with Multicultural Children’s Literature” at 10:00 am or “A Little Schmooze. A Little Nosh: A Little Chat. A Little Food” in the afternoon, we encourage you to “make a day of it” and experience all that ALA has to offer. One Day rates are available for members, non-members, retirees, and students.  Note: No discounts are given to ALA Affiliates like AJL. You must be an ALA member to get the member rate.

Click here for a preliminary list of additional sessions taking place on Sunday, June 28 at the ALA Annual. Visit the ALA Conference website for more information. If you have any questions, reach out to these AJL members who regularly attend the ALA Conference: Emily Bergman ([email protected]), Susan Kusel ([email protected]) or Elliot Gertel ([email protected]).


To read previous weekly conference updates, go to the 55TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2020 page of the AJL website and scroll down to the “Documents” section.


Association of Jewish Libraries
Annual Conference
June 29-July 1, 2020
Hilton Orrington Hotel
Evanston, Illinois
[email protected]

AJL Elections 2020


AJL will hold its regular biennial election May 1-30, 2020. We will be voting by electronic ballot.

It’s very important that we have up-to-date email addresses for all members. If your email address has changed, please contact our Vice-President for Membership, Sharon Benamou, at [email protected] ucla.edu . Ballots will be sent to all current AJL members by email on May 1. You must be a current member to vote. If you do not receive a ballot, please contact Joy Kingsolver at joy. [email protected] If you need a paper ballot, please email Joy to request one.

Candidates' info

The nomination Committee is pleased to present the following for the AJL Board 2020-2022

Michelle Chesner, AJL Vice President

Photo of Michelle Chesner

Institution and position in the institution: Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies, Columbia University

Past position on AJL Board, Council or committee: President, Research, Archives, and Special Libraries Division

Bio: Michelle Chesner began as the inaugural Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Studies at Columbia University in 2010. She serves as co-director of the digital humanities project Footprints: Jewish Books Through Time and Place, and is the co-convener of the Notheast Judaica Bibliographers' Consortium. Prior to Columbia, Michelle worked at the University of Pennsylvania and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her degrees are from New York University, Long Island University, and the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. Her first AJL conference was in Phoenix, and she has been an active member of AJL ever since.

Plans if elected: AJL is an incredible organization, one that has been instrumental in my growth and development as a librarian. I hope to expand our membership internationally, and to strengthen our mentorship and training programs. As the field changes, and more librarians are reaching retirement in the coming years, there is a concerning lack of trained professionals entering the field to fill their places. I would like to work on cultivation of a new generation of librarians who can continue the groundwork laid by our collective predecessors and to commit to the future of our profession, whatever changes it may bring.

Jackie Ben-Efraim, Development VP

Photo of Jackie Ben-Ephraim

Institution and position in the institution: Special Collections Librarian, Ostrow Library, American Jewish University

Past position on AJL Board, Council or committee: Secretary (2019), AJL Ad Manager (2013-2019), Local Conference Chair 2019

Bio: I grew up in suburban Washington, D.C. in a family that has been active in the Jewish community for generations. I graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. and M.L.S. Then I moved to Los Angeles where I ran a successful business for 30 years. Finally I came back to the library world when I started my current position 12 years ago. In addition to my volunteer work with AJL, I have served in numerous positions on my synagogue's Sisterhood board for the last 15 years.

Plans if elected: I plan to assist our fundraiser by creating a committee to support fundraising efforts, organize documents created by the committee, to search for potential donors and maintain relationships with current donors.

Sharon Benamou, VP for membership

Photo of Sharon Benamous

Institution and position in the institution: UCLA; Hebraica/Judaica and Music Catalog Librarian

Past position on AJL Board, Council or committee: RAS Vice President, RAS President, Local Conference Co-Chair, Education Committee, member, Vice President for Membership

Bio: Sharon Benamou is the Hebraica/Judaica and Music Catalog Librarian at UCLA. She has an MA in Musicology from UCLA and an MLIS from CSU San Jose. She is active in both AJL and the Music Library Association (MLA). In MLA she is the Jewish Music Interest Group coordinator and a member of the Education Committee.

Plans if elected: If I am re-elected as Vice President for Membership I would like to work with Council and Board members to coordinate with Council and Board members to keep members informed about available resources, programs and opportunities.

Holly Zimmerman, Treasurer

Photo of Holly Zimmerman

Institution and position in the institution: AARP, Research editor for AARP Media

Past Position in AJL: Treasurer on Board

Bio: I have worked as a copyeditor, writer, editor, and fact-checker for AARP Media for 30 years. I hold an MLS degree from the University of Maryland. Jewish librarianship is a strong personal interest. Mother of three, grandmother of two.

Plans if elected: To develop and support ways to eliminate deficit and increase income, to keep careful track of funds; to pass on information about this role to at least one other person.

Eitan Kensky, AJL Secretary

Photo of Eitan Kensky

Institution and position in the institution: Stanford University, Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica Collections

Bio: Eitan Kensky is the Reinhard Family Curator of Judaica and Hebraica collections at Stanford. He previously worked at the Yiddish Book Center as the Director of Collections Initiatives, and at Harvard University as the Preceptor in Yiddish. He co-founded In geveb, the online, open access journal of Yiddish Studies, and served as President of the Board of In geveb from 2014-2019. Kensky received his PhD in Jewish Studies from Harvard University.

Plans if elected: To diligently serve the needs of the AJL, to learn more about the organization, and to offer advice gleaned from years of working for nonprofit organizations, and as a board member at a second nonprofit.

Amalia S. Levy, RAS president

Photo of Amalia S. Levy

Institution and position in the institution: The HeritEdge Connection; archivist and chair

Past position on AJL Board, Council or committee: RAS VP & Reference and Bibliography Committee Chair

Bio: Amalia S. Levi is an archivist and cultural heritage professional currently residing in Barbados. She is the founding director of The HeritEdge Connection, a non-profit organization dedicated to forging collaborations, connecting people, resources, and institutions through cultural heritage projects. Currently she is conducting digitization projects funded with grants through the Endangered Archives Programme, and the Modern Endangered Archives Program. Previously, she completed the archival processing and digitization of the records of the Synagogue Restoration Project in Bridgetown, Barbados. Amalia holds an MLS with a concentration in Archives, and an M.A. in History with a concentration in Jewish Studies, both from the University of Maryland; an M.A. in Museum Studies from Yildiz University in Istanbul, Turkey; and a B.A. in Archaeology and History of Art from the University of Athens, Greece. She has previously worked in museums, developing exhibits, and conducting archival research, and was the founding curator of the Jewish Museum of Turkey in Istanbul. She is co-editor of the book Identity Palimpsests: Archiving Ethnicity in the U.S. and Canada, and author of the book Evanescent Happiness: Ottoman Jews Encounter Modernity - The Case of Lea Mitrani and Joseph Niego (1863-1923).
For a full CV, please see https://hcommons.org/members/amaliasl/.
Website: www.archiveland.com; twitter : @amaliasl

Plans if elected: If elected, I would like to a) conduct more outreach and engage more archivists in AJL, b) involve more non-US based colleagues, c) place more focus on works of digital scholarship, and promote opportunities for continuous professional development at the AJL conference or the website, d) explore possibilities for collaboration, exchange of ideas, event or session organizing with colleagues from other 'ethnic' associations, such as the Middle East Librarians Association etc.

Anna Levia, RAS VP

Photo of Anna Levia

Institution and position in the institution: has worked at Stanford University Libraries since 2003 After spending eight years as a librarian for Jewish Studies, I currently serve as Reference and Instruction Librarian; Bibliographer for Linguistics; and Processing Archivist.

Past position on AJL Board, Council or committee: In 2017 she served on AJL's Strategic Planning Committee.
Bio: A BA in Linguistics from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from San Jose State. Her husband and she have three grown children and have lived in Sunnyvale, CA since 1992.

Plans if elected: If elected I look forward to chairing the Judaica Reference and Bibliography Awards Committee. I see these awards as an excellent means of highlighting and celebrating outstanding scholarship while promoting AJL as an important professional organization.

Samara Katz, SSCPL President

Photo of Samara katz

Institution and position: Librarian & Adult Education Coordinator, Temple Sinai Atlanta

Bio: Samara graduated from Ohio University with a degree in photojournalism and radio documentary in 2010. This may seem like a far cry from Jewish education, but Samara always gravitated towards good story telling, the research required to tell it, and the personal connections that go into interviewing. And what could be more Jewish than that?!
Samara has worked at many different Jewish organizations the past ten years and has had students as young as three and as old as 83. She has taught Hebrew and Judaica, has been a youth group leader, a camp counselor, a Resident Assistance at a Jewish boarding school, a Reform minyan leader, a Hillel director, curriculum developer and fundraiser.
Samara has currently landed at Temple Sinai Atlanta where her “Jane-of-all-trades” mindset has been encouraged. Her official title is Librarian & Adult Education Coordinator and her job is a wonderful mishmash of everything from preschool story time to bringing famous authors to speak to the congregation like Dani Shapiro to working on curriculum development with the religious school teachers.
When Samara is not at Temple Sinai, you can find her doing arts and crafts and hanging out with her dog Gracie.

Plans if elected:
I would like to help maintain the excellent quality of education opportunities for librarians and educators in the SSCPL division. I would also like to explore new educational experiences
for the upcoming conference

Sean Patrick Boyle, SSCPL VP

Photo of Sean Patrick B oyle

Institution and position in the institution: Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley; Librarian

Past position on AJL Board, Council or committee: Chair; SSCPL Advocacy Committee - Current

Bio: Sean Patrick Boyle is the Librarian at the Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley, in Allentown PA, and received his MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the Chair of the Advocacy Committee for AJL’s SSCPL division, and a member of the Leadership Institute for School Librarians for the Pennsylvania School Librarian Association. He is a retired U.S. Naval Officer with over 23 years of service. He also has a certificate of completion from the Turkish Naval War College, an MA in Teaching and Learning with Technology, and a BS in Political Science from the United States Naval Academy.

Plans if elected: I am in my second year as the Chair for SSCPL Division’s Advocacy Committee and appreciate the many great opportunities and support that the AJL provides to its members. SSCPL Division provides many great services and practical resources, and I wish to continue serving the Division and carrying on the great legacy left to us by past leaders.

Unfortunately, there is the continued trend of SSCPL division parent organizations as synagogues and centers converting their library spaces into meeting rooms with entire or most of the collections being weeded including items AJL was able to get donated by Avi Chai and other foundations. In schools the recent trend is to convert library spaces into J-STEAM (Jewish-Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) or other Innovation/Technology Labs. These organizations are hiring STEM Educators or other Educational Tech instructors and are not looking at Librarians to fill or enhance these roles. The transitioning of Library spaces to J-STEAM Labs is being done through large grants and support from National Jewish Organizations (ex: PRIZMAH, Jewish Interactive, PJ Library) and are receiving local Rabbi board support with disregard to the ‘cost’ of destroying their libraries.

As the Vice President of SSCPL Division, I will work with the SSCPL President and the AJL Board to educate these organizations, both locally and nationally, about the vitalness of maintaining Library spaces, and actively demonstrate at their conferences and during other opportunities on how Librarians enhance J-STEAM programs (Data Management, Problem Research, Copyright, Metadata for project archive, etc.) while still providing ‘traditional’ services. I am my School’s J-STEAM Facilitator and offer programs to the wider community through our Friends of the Library organization. So, I will be able to provide first-hand knowledge on how Librarians enhance instead of hinder these programs.
While AJL stops the trend of eliminating Libraries, I will also work diligently to continue and improve the partnerships with Public Libraries to ensure we are providing Jewish Literature and Judaic Librarianship Support to the larger communities as their local Jewish organizations misguidedly destroy their Judaic Collections.



Respectfully submitted:
Racheli Leket-Mor
Jim Rosenbloom
Amalia Warshenbrot, Committee chair


AJL 2020 Conference Update #4

Due to the COVID-19 virus, the in-person conference has been canceled and a new virtual conference is being designed.


Your AJL Conference Update

by Marcie Eskin & Rachel Kamin

February 19, 2020

Announcing the 2020 Feinstein Lecture:

A person wearing a blue shirt

Description automatically generatedDr. Malka Z. Simkovich will deliver the annual Feinstein Lecture during lunch on Wednesday, July 1 at 12:15pm at the Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Libraries in Evanston, IL. She is the Crown-Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies and the director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She earned a doctoral degree in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism from Brandeis University and a Masters degree in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University. Her first book, The Making of Jewish Universalism: From Exile to Alexandria was published in 2016, and her second book, Discovering Second Temple Literature: The Scriptures and Stories That Shaped Early Judaism, was published in 2018 and received the 2019 AJL Judaica Reference Honor Award. Simkovich’s articles have been published in the Harvard Theological Review and the Journal for the Study of Judaism, as well as on online forums such as The Lehrhaus and the Times of Israel. Her third book, a co-authored commentary on Zechariah, is forthcoming in 2021, and she is currently working on a book regarding Jewish concepts of diaspora in the Greco-Roman period.


About the Feinstein Lecture:

Logo for AJL 2020 conference in EvanstonThe Association of Jewish Libraries received a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Culture (FJC) given by the Myer and Rosalind Feinstein Family to fund an annual lecture. Lectures on Judaic bibliography and librarianship were delivered at the annual conferences from 1996-2010. The FJC is no longer active, but it left AJL with monies to continue these lectures. The Feinstein Lecture resumed at the 2019 AJL Conference and will continue to encourage and inspire Judaica librarians at future conferences. 


To read previous weekly conference updates, go to the 55TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2020 page of the AJL website and scroll down to the “Documents” section.


ALA Midwinter: A Goat's Eye View

by Marjorie Ingall

It was my first library conference, my first time serving on the Sydney Taylor Award Committee, my first time trying Old City Coffee in the Reading Terminal Market. All highly recommended.

I was determined, as I roamed the exhibition floor staring goggle-eyed like a chimp at a banana plantation, not to pick up a single book. I could always request copies of appealing titles when I got home, I told myself. This meant I left the floor so laden with tote bags of books, I could barely walk. 

I am weak. 

The highlight of the conference was, of course, the Youth Media Awards. We Sydney Taylor Committee members in attendance got our pics taken by a professional photographer, even though it was 6:05am and my undereye bags had bags. (They were almost as big as my totebags full of books.) We were given instructions in how to wave for the cameras: Stand, smile, 180 degree turn, 90 degree turn, 180 degree turn, keep smiling, keep waving. 

We were ushered into the cavernous, buzzy conference room and discovered that AJL had been seated in the front row! It felt like being at the Oscars, except more literate! The ceremony began, and everything was thrilling. The air felt charged; it was as if champagne bubbles and nitrous oxide were being pumped through the ductwork. Books and authors we loved in other categories were recognized, and we gasped and cheered and stamped our feet. When our award was announced, we stood up as directed and waved our little stuffed goats. (They were a tribute to the logo of Aaron Lansky’s Yiddish Book Center, the subject of Sue Macy’s gold-medal-winning picture book, The Book Rescuer. Lots of committees bring props to brandish when their name is called. It’s a Thing.) 

I was proud of our slate of winners: Books about Jewish circus-acrobat refugees in 1940s China; about a contemporary MacArthur Genius grant winner; about friendship and bravery in Vichy, France (in graphic novel form, no less); about an Eastern-European Jewish girl and an elusive dragon in a magic-infused world; about a Sephardic woman guitarist; about a new little immigrant to Ellis Island; about an American basketball team in Berlin; about a Supreme Court justice; and about a pair of contemporary snarky teens with chronic illnesses and a lot of spark. 

After all the awards were announced, we dashed back to the exhibition floor to put shiny medal stickers on all the Gold, Silver, and Notable books. Everyone around us seemed to be beaming; everyone was thrilled to see us. This is very good for the self-esteem. If there is any way you can get in on this action, I highly recommend it. 

I slept the whole way home on the train, my suitcase stuffed with books and a furry goat. He is now is my kid’s room, among the books, going by Goaty McGoaterson. 


Jews! Jews on the poster! Jews!

I liked the nerdy ribbons people added to their badges. This is AJL’s Susan Kusel’s badge. 

Day 5: 2020 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

Each day, the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour brings you exciting
interviews with winning authors and illustrators, on a variety of kidlit blogs.
Please be sure to show our hosting bloggers a little love - leave them some comments!


Sofiya Pasternack, author of Anya and the Dragon

Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Middle Grade Categoryat From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors

Victoria Ortiz, author of Dissenter on the Bench

Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Young Adult Categoryat Jewish Books for Kids

 Blog Tour Wrap-Up at The Whole Megillah