Jewish Leftist Activism in Children’s Fiction

“From the very beginning—that is, from the publication of the first book specifically for children — the intent was to mold and shape the mind to accepted standards of behavior.”
Saul Braun, The New York Times, June 7, 1970.

This article is the product of research originally conducted for a recent article titled “Jews, Obscenity, and the Legal System.” Given the significant amount of material discovered and the uniqueness of the subject matter, I decided there was enough material for an article devoted to children’s literature. During research for the obscenity essay, I consulted the American Library Association’s list of “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000–2009” with a view to assessing the nature and extent of the Jewish presence. The first fact to become apparent was a marked Jewish over-representation in the production of books deemed controversial or perverse by parents, schools, and other institutions. Jews are notoriously shy of the census, but are probably somewhere between the 2.2% of the U.S. population suggested by the Pew Research Center and a maximum of around 5%. Even accepting a grain of truth in the apologetic argument that Jews are disproportionately attracted to literary professions (to say nothing about motive), one might very generously expect a Jewish representation of around 10 books on the ALA’s list.

However, my biographical checks on all authors on the list, some of which were indeterminate, revealed that 22 books on the ALA’s list were penned by 17 Jewish writers.[1] Jews are thus significantly over-represented in producing contemporary literature deemed oppositional by the surrounding culture, and are even more radically over-represented when older, White-authored, entries such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (now often opposed as ‘racist’) are taken out of consideration. Since the majority of entries on the list were children’s books, and taking into account my previous discoveries concerning Jewish manipulation of demand for ‘diverse books’ in the school system, it occurred to me that children’s literature is an important, but sometimes neglected, front in the cultural conflict we see played out daily. This article is therefore intended as a brief introduction to some of the most pertinent personalities and themes in the area of Jewish Leftist activism in children’s fiction.

A great deal of Jewish radical activism in the cultural sphere comes under the umbrella of the general relationship between Jews and the Left. This relationship can historically be understood as involving Jewish innovation of, or support for, social, cultural, and political causes likely to weaken the cultural structures of the host society and make it more amenable to Jewish interests. In the chapter titled “Jews and the Left” in The Culture of Critique (p. 50 )Kevin MacDonald cites Stanley Rothman and S. Robert Lichter, who remarked in their Roots of Radicalism: Jews, Christians, and the New Left (1982): “Whatever their situation…in almost every country about which we have information, a segment of the Jewish community played a very vital role in movements designed to undermine the existing order.” MacDonald argues that superficial divergences between Jewish religion and radical agendas are negated by the fact many ethnically Jewish radicals have persisted in adhering to a strong Jewish identity, and have often explicitly pursued Jewish interests. MacDonald writes (p. 51): “The hypothesis that Jewish radicalism is compatible with Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy implies that radical Jews continue to identify as Jews.”

I argue that the material presented in this essay should be seen firmly within the same theoretical framework proposed by MacDonald. For example, several of the Jewish writers under consideration here are homosexuals, radical socialists, and feminists. A common apologetic from “Jews on the Right,” is that such figures are anathema to Judaism, or that as adherents of the Reform movement etc., they are unrepresentative of “true Jews.” The contention here is that the situation is quite the opposite, and I stress that many of these writers are demonstrably committed to Jewish tradition and the Jewish group.

Excellent case studies in this regard can be found in Jewish lesbian feminist writers — figures who are, on the surface at least, incompatible with a group evolutionary strategy. After all, how could women who have personally forfeited reproduction be said to engage in a Darwinian struggle? However, history tells us that it has been quite possible for Jewish celibates and homosexuals to contribute in some form to group advancement. A useful example is my own recent review of the work of R.A. Maryks, “Jewish activism in the Jesuit Order,” a scenario in which Jewish males traded reproductive possibilities for political, social, and cultural influence intended to benefit the converso community of Early Modern Spain. Similarly, Jewish scholar Sylvia Fishman points out in Follow My Footprints: Changing Images of Women in American Fiction (1992) that “a significant amount of Jewish lesbian writing is deeply committed to Jewish peoplehood and Jewish survival.”[2] A particularly interesting example of a radical Jewish feminist is Betty Friedan (born Bettye Naomi Goldstein), the activist behind “Second Wave Feminism” who “confessed to having always had ‘very strong feelings’ about her Jewish identity,” and saw feminism partly as a means of getting closer to Judaism and her identity as a Jew.[3]

That radical Jewish activists should turn their attention to children’s culture and education is also unsurprising. Jewish intellectuals have, in recent decades, pushed the idea that nativist and/or anti-Jewish attitudes are on a par with a highly infectious disease — with inoculation, in the form of aggressive “educational” treatment, at an early age seen as the surest remedy for the perceived ills of an “intolerant society.” Although the idea that anti-Jewish attitudes are a form of disease with roots in childhood goes back to Freud, it remains current in mainstream Jewish academic and political circles. Take, for example, the closing remarks from Abraham Foxman’s Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype, where parents and teachers are urged to “try to help the next generation grow up freer from the infection of intolerance”[4] — the goal being, as Mr. Foxman once articulated, to “make America as user-friendly to Jews as possible.” Theodore Isaac Rubin’s Anti-Semitism: A Disease of the Mind, describes anti-Jewish feeling as a “contagious, malignant disease,” and concludes by stating, “extremely active application of insight and education is necessary to check the disease. Checkmate and eradication is [sic] extremely difficult and probably only possible if applied to the very young before roots of the disease take hold.”[5] To Rubin and the ADL, the solution to the problem of solidarity and tradition in the surrounding population is one requiring “prophylaxis” and “approaches to children.” Indeed, the ADL-sponsored tome Anti-Semitism in America (1979), concludes that “It is apparent that the schools are the most appropriate and potentially effective agent to carry out the instructional strategy just outlined.”[6]

Children’s literature, therefore, whether for entertainment or education, would be an obvious conduit through which Jews could advance ideas or encourage behaviors likely to benefit Jewish interests. One could also reasonably predict, based on historical precedents in the form of Jewish intellectual movements (particularly multiculturalism, sexology, Boasian anthropology, psychoanalysis, and the theories of the Frankfurt School), that such ideas would revolve around notions of ethnic and sexual pluralism, and the critique and deconstruction of traditional family structure in Whites. Indeed, one might even expect contributing authors to have overlapping affiliations to psychoanalysis and radical socialism. Such predictions are largely borne out in the findings presented below.

One of the more interesting figures in this sphere of cultural activity is Lesléa Newman, a lesbian and Jewish feminist who has the dubious distinction of penning one of the most controversial children’s books of recent decades while also producing a series of books for Jewish children promoting traditional Jewish culture and values. In 1989, after being rejected by almost every mainstream publisher, and together with co-ethnic backer Tzivia Gover, Newman self-published Heather Has Two Mommies, described as “the first lesbian-themed children’s book ever published.” Newman recalls, “People were scared to publish ‘Heather’ even though there was a need for it. No one would touch it. But we were fierce Jewish women.” Newman’s work was recorded as the 11th most challenged book of the 1990s by the American Library Association. However, in common with reactions to Jewish activism in other cultural, social, and political spheres, the response to Newman’s work was boisterous but lacking in focus; the perception being that this was exclusively part of a homosexual agenda and there being little or no understanding of the Jewish element involved. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that “the head of a school district in Queens declared “war” on the book and sent a letter to parents warning that their children were going to be taught about sodomy. …The district president sent out over 30,000 letters  to district parents decrying the book as ‘dangerous homosexual propaganda.’” At one point Newman was described as “America’s most dangerous writer.”

What many of the book’s opponents missed, however, was that its author was a keen promoter of traditionalism and community — Jewish traditionalism and community. Unlike Heather Has Two Mommies and later books such as The Boy Who Cried Fabulous (2004), A Fire Engine for Ruthie (2004), Momma, Mama, and Me (2009), Daddy, Papa, and Me (2009), Donovan’s Big Day (2011), and Sparkle Boy (2017), which brought homosexuality, gender dysphoria, and AIDS to a mass child readership, Newman published a number of niche children’s books for her own community, offering conventional and traditional treatments of Jewish festivals devoid of any of these themes. Matzo Ball Moon (1998), Runaway Dreidel (2002), The Eight Nights of Chanukah (2008), A Sweet Passover (2012), My Name is Aviva (2015), and Hanukkah Delight (2016) all feature traditional Jewish families without a hint of sexual or cultural pluralism. They have been highly praised as traditional, family-friendly works by the Jewish Book Council.

That Newman has consciously or unconsciously produced a body of work so thematically segregated is unsurprising within the framework of Jewish deception and self-deception. The crucial factor here is that Jewish identity is integral to Newman’s sense of self and belonging, and is something that she feels very protective of. Indeed, in our attempt to assess the true psychological driving force behind the production and dissemination of the former body of work, it is worth recalling Newman’s description of herself and Gover not as feminists or lesbians, but as “fierce Jewish women” (emphasis added). One would be fully justified in asking why, given the apparently non-ethnic and non-religious context of the origins of Heather, Newman would lay most emphasis on her ethnicity. My own interpretation is that, as a homosexual, Newman is a kind of outlier within the Jewish ethnic group who, consciously or otherwise, has sought to advance the interests of her co-ethnics by ‘weaponizing’ her sexuality and directing her activism exclusively against ‘society’ rather than within her community. Of course, one finds precisely the same incongruences among heterosexual feminists who, in their fevered railings against the patriarchy remain curiously yet unanimously silent on the patriarchal aspects of Judaism and Jewish culture.

With two entries on the ALAs list, Robie Harris is another excellent example of Jewish activism in children’s fiction, having been born into an orthodox Jewish family. Harris’s most challenged text is It’s Perfectly Normal (1994), a book described by Kirkus Review as demonstrating Harris’s desire to “present more ethnic and sexual diversity than New York City’s Rainbow Curriculum ever bargained for.” Harris accomplishes this by introducing pre-teen children to multiple sex acts, transgenderism, homosexuality, and AIDS. In 1996, It’s Perfectly Normal was challenged in Washington because the “book is an act of encouragement for children to begin desiring sexual gratification … and is a clear example of child pornography.” In 1999 Harris published It’s So Amazing, which was equally challenged by parents and schools on the grounds that it was introducing ten year olds to “sexual intercourse, masturbation, abortion, and homosexuality.” In 2012 Harris provoked further controversy with the publication of Who’s in My Family, which “tells the story of changing family structures, from biracial to gay households.” Of considerably greater interest is who is in Harris’s own family, an extended network of uniformly Jewish households. Indeed, Harris’s cousin, Elizabeth Levy, is also a children’s author. Levy is best known for her Something Queer series, published between 1973 and 1997, which told the story of  the adventures of two young girls with a barely-concealed (for those who missed the title’s double entendre) lesbian subtext. In 1981 Levy abandoned subtlety altogether with the publication of Come Out Smiling, a sordid tale aimed at teens and exploring lesbian relationships at a girl’s summer camp. The villain of the piece is a White, “homophobic” father against whom the girls must “bravely” struggle.

All of this is not to say that the pushing of sexual and ethnic diversity or undermining traditional representations of masculinity in children’s fiction has been the sole preserve of Jewish women. Harvey Fierstein’s The Sissy Duckling (2002) is aimed at children ages 5–8 and “tells the story of Elmer, a duckling who is mocked for being a “sissy” but who ultimately proves his bravery.” Another incredibly controversial children’s work of recent decades is Two Weeks with the Queen, published by Morris Gleitzman in 1990. In this work, aimed at children ages 8–12, Gleitzman discusses themes including “AIDS, homosexuality, and gay-bashing.” A particularly interesting case study is Maurice Sendak, the homosexual Jewish children’s writer and illustrator behind Where the Wild Things Are (1963). Sendak made the ALAs list for In the Night Kitchen (1970), which depicts a young boy’s dream journey through a surreal baker’s kitchen where he assists in the creation of a cake to be ready by the morning. Particularly controversial was the fact the boy is illustrated by Sendak as fully naked throughout, and is depicted in a range of scenarios resembling, in the words of journalist Saul Braun, a “masturbatory fantasy.” The son of Polish Jews, Sendak has confessed in interviews to Jewish subtexts in his works, including In the Night Kitchen, and to ways in which his Jewish roots have impacted his life, views, and work. For example, Sendak claims that from a young age he viewed “the human race as fairly aggressive and confrontational,” and remarked that the bakers in In the Night Kitchen — “with their Hitler-esque moustaches — were a reference to the Holocaust.” Similarly, it has been remarked that Sendak’s illustrations of children are “somewhat stout and gnomish. … His children are dark, with stumpy figures — not your standard, Anglo-Saxon Janet and John types.” Sendak himself has stated they are Jewish figures, being “a curious admixture of Brooklyn remembered and shtetl life in Poland fantasized.”

A heterosexual male Jewish children’s author who has thus far avoided challenges to his work is Michael Rosen, born in England to Jewish parents with roots in Poland, Russia, and Romania. Both parents were members of the Young Communist League and had opposed the Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists during the “Battle of Cable Street.” His mother was a secretary at the Daily Worker, the official newspaper of the Community Party of Great Britain. Rosen himself is strongly affiliated with the radical Left, writing columns for the Socialist Worker newspaper and speaking at conferences of the Socialist Workers Party. Having carved out a reasonably successful career as a children’s poet and author, even a cursory glance at his body of work suggests that his politics has intermingled with his ‘art.’ One of the best, and perhaps subtlest, examples is This Is Our House (1996), aimed at pre-schoolers. In essence, this is an anti-nativist tale designed to dissuade children from having “prejudices” or any sense of ownership or property, but it masquerades as a simple tale about sharing. The book’s description states: “George says the cardboard house is his and no one else can play in it. It isn’t for girls, small people, twins, people with glasses, or people who like tunnels. But Lindy, Marly, Freddie, Charlene, Marlene, Luther, Sophie and Rasheda have other ideas! One by one each child is refused access until tables are turned and George finds how it feels to be on the receiving end.” In the course of the book George (depicted as White) plays happily with a box that he has constructed as his “house.” But the other children, half of whom are non-White, insist that his “home” is not just his but “belongs to everybody.”

More recently, for children ages 10–12, Rosen has authored a non-fiction book titled Who are Refugees and Migrants? What Makes People Leave their Homes? And Other Big Questions (2016). The book is said to compare “the effects on society of diversity and interculturalism with historical attempts to create a racially ‘pure’ culture. It takes an international perspective …. There is also a role-play activity asking readers to imagine themselves in the situation of having to decide whether to leave their homes and seek refuge in a new country.”

Essentially then, it is a quite typical example of multicultural propaganda. Jewish involvement in producing pro-multicultural non-fiction texts for children is of course nothing new. The earliest example I have been able to find (at least in the English-speaking world) is Dorothy W. Baruch’s Glass House of Prejudice (1946). The text was described by Kirkus Review in the year of its publication as the “first approach of its kind to problems of minorities, of racial discrimination, of intolerance, based on case histories, many of them closely aligned with adolescent problems. Dr. Baruch’s approach touches both intellect and emotions; she cuts to the heart of the matter …. She has shown how the problems [surrounding immigration] are rooted in conditions we [the native population] must face, insecurities, false attitudes, ignorance.” Such ideas were of course fully in keeping with the theories advanced by the Frankfurt School.

Before concluding, some mention must be made of the most prolific author on the ALAs list of most challenged books, 2000–2009: Judy Blume (born Judith Sussman). Blume’s three entries exceed any other writer, while during the 1990–1999 period she had five entries. For the period 1990–2004 Blume came second only to fellow Jew Alvin Schwartz, whose violent and explicit horror stories were deemed inappropriate for the age group he claimed to write them for. Blume has come into conflict with parents, schools, and other institutions because her works contain graphic sexual content and offensive language, as well as themes that have been deemed unsuitable for any child age group. Those elements are present in every one of Blume’s challenged books, but to cite just two examples, Deenie (1973) Forever (1975), Blume introduced into teenage fiction such themes as compulsive masturbation, teenage pregnancy, attempted suicide, homosexuality, and talk of sexually transmitted diseases. But how does Blume see herself? A feminist role model? A cultural egalitarian? In her own words: “Culturally and spiritually I’m a Jewish girl from New Jersey.”


There are of course many more writers who could be profiled, and many more works which could be explored, but the intention of this essay has been to offer a modest introduction to some of the more pertinent themes in this area of Jewish cultural activity. The contention here is not that Jews are solely behind the decline in social, cultural, and sexual norms that historically have been very beneficial for White societies. After all, once we exclude non-White authors from the ALAs list we still find around 60% of socially oppositional works being produced by White writers. There’s obviously a market for such material, and, as usual, no shortage of Whites willing to take advantage of it. However, the contention here is that there is significant evidence that individuals identifying as Jews, and seeing themselves fully as members of the Jewish ethnic group, have been at the cutting edge of cultural erosion, often innovating or acting as pioneers in the deconstruction of social norms. Essentially, what we see is that writers like Baruch, Harris, Levy, and Newman broke ground into which fellow Jewish activists — and outlier Whites — could follow. It is difficult to say with certainty how different things would have turned out without such aggressive action from these self-described “fierce Jewish women” (and men), but one could reasonably surmise that the policing of morals and norms within our group would have been significantly more robust without the undermining cultural influence of fads like psychoanalysis or the selective “backing of free speech” by Jewish groups when it suited their interests to do so.

Finally, the bigger picture here is the indoctrination of our children. On this note I refer to the epigraph that opened this essay. Ultimately we are dealing with materials designed to mold and shape the minds of our children to the new “accepted standards of behavior.” We are now not far from a time when healthy tales of White children engaging in adventure will be deemed reactionary because of their potential to instill pride, or dangerous because they aren’t tolerant enough of the proliferating motley of sexual and racial minorities that now intrude into all aspects of culture. Our challenge in the coming years will be to get into this culture war in a more significant way. That will require developing a new literature, and stamping out the poisonous one that lies before us.

[1] Avi (aka Edward Irving Wortis), H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, Judy Blume, Esther Drill, Lois Duncan (Steinmetz), E.R. Frank, Bette Green, Robie Harris, Carolyn Mackler, Johanna Reiss, Louise Rennison, J.D. Salinger, Louis Sachar, Alvin Schwartz, Maurice Sendak, Charles Silverstein, R.L. Stine.

[2] S.B. Fishman, Follow My Footprints: Changing Images of Women in American Fiction (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 1992), p.50.

[3] F. Klagsbrun, “Marching in Front,” Hadassah Magazine (Nov. 1993), p.24.

[4] A. Foxman, Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype (New York: Palgrave, 2010), p.230.

[5] T.I. Rubin, Anti-Semitism: A Disease of the Mind (Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009), p.156.

[6] H. Quinley & C. Glock, Anti-Semitism in America (New York: The Free Press, 1979), p.202.

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