Jewish culture and values revolve around the written word. As creative expression, religious text, or a source of comfort and stability in times of persecution, the book has long stood as a source of spiritual sustenance and community. It is a portal into the realm of imagination and a source of knowledge that we all seek out. The Jewish Public Library’s collections offer entry to these worlds through a diversity of genres, subjects, and languages.
From its earliest days the Library gained an impressive reputation abroad. In 1915 the Library invited beloved Yiddish humorist and author, Sholom Aleichem, to speak. Presented with an opportunity to see this legend live, eager audiences filled the Princess Theatre on Rue Ste-Catherine. The JPL has continued the tradition of bringing notable Jewish literary and intellectual figures to Montreal audiences.
During the 1940s and 50s the Library became a hub of creativity for Montreal’s Yiddish literary scene. An informal network of poets and authors, including Ida Maze and Melech Ravitch, fostered an active cultural life that enveloped the Library. It attracted authors of renown to public readings and discussions, with many taking the time to encourage the Library’s youngest readers’. Over the years some of these writers, including A.M. Klein and Irving Layton, supported the Library in very direct ways by lending their voices to past Library publications.
Montreal’s Jewish Book Month, initiated in 1944 as a weeklong event, has long been the highlight of the Library’s cultural programmes. Partnering with other communal organizations, this eagerly awaited festival of lectures, book launches, and film screenings continues to grow in size and scope. The 2013 Jewish Book Month hosted programmes in five languages and attracted over 3600 participants.
Regular programming and other special events also draw some of the world’s most well-known writers and opinion-makers. Among the many who have filled the halls of the Library: Saul Bellow, Amos Oz, Alan Dershowitz, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Hugh Maclennan, Mordecai Richler, Chaim Potok, Thomas Keneally, Irving Layton, Naim Kattan, Thomas L. Friedman, Leonard Cohen, Michel Tremblay, Yves Beauchemin, and Margaret Atwood. Today, newer generations of writers such as Lawrence Hill, Tatiana de Rosnay, and Heather O’Neill continue to bring their stories to JPL Audiences. Through these lectures the JPL emphasizes the importance of the written word and its ability to bring communities together.