The $1,500 grant, awarded by the American Library Association and NextBook – a project devoted to the promotion of Jewish literature, culture and ideas – will go toward a series of five professionally led, monthly discussions on contemporary and classic Jewish-themed works.
Nan Rosenthal, manager for the Haddon Township branch of the system, and Rhoda Schmulowitz, evening and weekend manager for the Voorhees branch, put their heads together back in the spring to complete the arduous application process.
"It was a [lot] of work, especially finding the right person to lead the discussion," said Rosenthal, who with Schmulowitz had been denied the grant the first time they applied last year.
Then they contacted people at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Rutgers and Temple universities, and eventually found "a wonderful woman" – Melissa Klapper, an assistant professor of history at Rowan University and author of Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920.
This summer, they were notified that they'd won.
The grant, called "Let's Talk About It: Jewish Literature," offered six topics from which to choose. Rosenthal and Schmulowitz picked the theme "Fathers and Daughters in a Changing World" because they wanted a subject that would attract a variety of people.
The books – to be discussed the first Thursday of each month at the William G. Rohrer Memorial Library in Haddon Township, beginning Jan. 5 – include Tevye the Dairyman by Sholem Aleichem; Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska; 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir by Anne Roiphe; Philip Roth's American Pastoral; and Myla Goldberg's Bee Season.
Since last summer when the first round of funding was awarded, nearly 100 libraries have taken part in the program. Camden was awarded during the third round of applications; the fourth and final grants will be doled out at the end of this year.
Rosenthal praised the program – and the opportunity it gives such institutions, which are notoriously underfunded.
"Normally, I wouldn't have the funds to pay this level of a professor, or to buy these many books or give this kind of program," she said. "But that's what public libraries are for. We're serving the public."