When Naomi Firestone-Teeter started working as a recent college graduate at the Jewish Book Council in 2006, one of her first projects was to launch the now 75-year-old organization’s first website. Now as executive director of the organization, one of the projects she’s proudest of is the launch of a literary journal printed on thick, sturdy paper, called the Paper Brigade.
Named for the Jewish resisters in the Vilna Ghetto who risked their lives to smuggle Jewish books to safety, the journal is a celebration of Jewish literary culture. “They dedicated and risked their lives to saving and preserving Jewish literature and history,” said Firestone-Teeter. “We were really inspired by them and we’re not risking our lives, but we dedicate our lives because we know that this is extremely important to the community.”
The journal, launched in 2017, serves as a bridge between an older era in which Jewish books existed exclusively on paper, to a time when literary culture encompasses every medium of communication. While the journal is published in print once a year, new content is published on a daily basis on the JBC’s website. Firestone-Teeter wants readers to see the JBC as “the ultimate resource for Jewish books.”
She described the thought process behind the creation of the journal: “What can we create in the Jewish world that feels fresh, that someone, no matter their affiliation with Jewish life, would feel comfortable engaging with, and we wanted it to be something beautiful.”
In addition to its national Jewish book awards and services for Jewish book festival organizers across the country, under Firestone-Teeter’s leadership, JBC has launched other new projects in recent years such as “Unpacking the Book,” an event series produced in partnership with the Jewish Museum in New York, in which Jewish authors discuss Jewish literature and identity.
Firestone-Teeter emphasized the opportunity Jewish books offer as an entry point to Jewish life. “It’s something you can do as a solitary experience … or you can have a book club. There’s so many different ways for people to approach interacting with a book and there aren’t a lot of barriers,” she said. “We can be reaching this group of people that not everyone else can reach.”
If you build it: Firestone-Teeter actually enjoys assembling Ikea furniture.