Twentieth-century Jews star in new book

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While the Jewish Bulletin was commemorating its 90th anniversary a decade ago, the Shuttle Challenger was exploding like a supernova with astronaut Judith Resnick inside.

Resnick was the first Jew to enter space, where stars originate.

Authors Asher B. Etkes and Saul Stadtmauer list Resnick — along with some 1,200 other stellar sons and daughters of Abraham — in their new book "Jewish Contributions to the American Way of Life."

The book is a handy reference guide to have on hand this year while celebrating the Bulletin's 100th anniversary.

The Bulletin was known as Emanu-El when it was launched in 1896. That year also saw the birth of William Wellman, whose screenplay for the Janet Gaynor-Frederic March film "A Star is Born" won an Oscar in 1927.

American women won the right to vote in 1920, and the following year Emanu-El celebrated its silver anniversary. That year future feminist Betty Friedan also uttered her first cry. She would grow up to be heard: Her leadership helped influence Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment banning sex discrimination in 1972.

The year of the ERA, another vocal Jewish woman, Bette Midler, won a "Best New Artist" Grammy award — the first of many — for her album "The Divine Miss M." Singer-songwriter Barry Manilow arranged Midler's music and frequently performed with her; he had his own string of hits in the '70s: Manilow was born in the newspaper's golden anniversary year, 1946.

Controversial photographer Diane Arbus died by her own hand in 1971, the year the Bulletin celebrated its 75th anniversary. Arbus left behind an unflinching record of drug addicts, prostitutes and circus freaks, who stared fixedly at her camera, daring it to recoil in horror. It never batted an eye.

Surprisingly, the book neglects to mention comedian George Burns, who died March 9 of this year after a dazzling career that spanned an entire century.

The authors organize Jewish celebrities by profession, including such categories as music, literature, stage, business, education and science. Charming and insightful introductions head off each chapter.

The chapter covering sports begins with two historical Jewish athletes: the ancient Roman charioteer, Ben-Hur, and 18th-century British heavyweight champion Daniel Mendoza.

Many consider Mendoza to be the father of modern boxing.

The modern International Olympics was founded in 1896 — as was Emanu-El. At that time many Jewish immigrants discovered that sports could help them advance in American society. Pugilist Benny Leonard, for example, held the world lightweight boxing title from 1917 to 1924.

The authors ask readers to nominate influential Jews whom they might profile in future editions of the book. Who can predict which babies will grow up to become the stars of this hundredth-anniversary year?