A preeminent authority on adult education and multiculturalism, Lily Edelman spent her life encouraging others to read and think about people of different cultures and faiths. Through her writings, the reviews and anthologies she edited, and the adult education courses she taught and planned, she challenged individuals to examine both their own religious faith and society. Drawing upon her own heritage, she wrote a popular children’s book, The Booth erected for residence during the holiday of Sukkot.Sukkah and the Big Wind (1956) about the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth, and Israel: New People in an Old Land (1958) was based on her many trips to Israel.
Lily Judith (Pokvidz) Edelman was born on September 2, 1915, in San Francisco, California, to Morris and Rachel (Margolis) Podvidz. She married Nathan Edelman on May 30, 1936, and had one child, Jean Louise, who is now deceased. She received a B.A. in 1936 from Hunter College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1938 she received an M.A. from Columbia University, and in 1954, she earned a diploma in adult education from Columbia University Teachers College.
Edelman’s multicultural educational writings, Mexican Mural Painters and Their Influence in the United States (1938) and Music in China and Japan: Classroom Material (1940), published by the Service Bureau for Intercultural Education, led to a position as the education director of the East & West Association (1941–1950), an organization founded by novelist Pearl S. Buck. In addition, she wrote The People of India, Who They Are, How They Live, What They Like, What They Are Thinking (1943). Edelman worked as a freelance writer and editor for the U.S. State Department in the Overseas Information Program, New York City (1950–1952), and for the United Synagogue of America, now called the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (1954–1957). She was also the executive secretary of the National Academy for Adult Jewish Studies, New York City (1953–1957). During the 1950s, she published several cultural history books for young people, including Japan in Story and Pictures (1953) and Hawaii, U.S.A. (1954). In 1957 she joined the staff of B’nai B’rith in Washington, D.C., and held a series of positions that joined her interest in adult education with her interest in writing and editing: She was editorial associate, director of adult education, national program director, and director of the lecture bureau for B’nai B’rith, as well as editor of the Anti-Defamation League bulletin Face to Face and Jewish Heritage. She served as book editor of the B’nai B’rith National Jewish Monthly. She also edited the book Face to Face: A Primer in Dialogue and Jewish Heritage Reader and she coedited the Jewish Heritage Classics series. Edelman joined with Goldie Adler in 1967 to compile an anthology of the writings of Rabbi Morris Adler, May I Have a Word With You?, and compiled Questions for Modern Jews: Pros and Cons on Current Issues with Edward E. Grusd. In 1970 she worked with Elie Wiesel to translate from the French A Beggar in Jerusalem and One Generation After. She was an active member of B’nai B’rith Women, the Adult Education Association, the Maryland Association of Adult Education, the National Council on Adult Jewish Education, the Jewish Book Council, and Phi Beta Kappa.
Lily Edelman, a dynamic and much-sought-after lecturer, committed her life to learning, to teaching, and to understanding multicultural society. She died in New York City on January 22, 1981.
SELECTED WORKS BY LILY EDELMAN
A Beggar in Jerusalem, translated from French with Elie Wiesel (1970); Face to Face: A Primer in Dialogue, editor (1967); Hawaii, U.S.A. (1954); Israel: New People in an Old Land (1958. Rev. ed. 1969); Japan in Story and Pictures (1953); Jewish Heritage Reader, editor (1965); May I Have a Word with You?, with Goldie Adler (1967); Mexican Mural Painters and Their Influence in the United States (1938); Music in China and Japan: Classroom Material (1940); One Generation After, translated from French with Elie Wiesel (1970); The People of India: Who They Are, How They Live, What They Like, What They Are Thinking (1943); Questions for Modern Jews: Pros and Cons on Current Issues, with Edward E. Grusd (n.d.); The Booth erected for residence during the holiday of Sukkot.Sukkah and the Big Wind (1956).
AJYB 83:353; Contemporary Authors. Vols. 61–64 (1976), and Vol. 102 (1981); Obituary. NYTimes, January 27, 1981, B19; Something About the Author: Facts and Pictures About Authors and Illustrators of Books for Young People. Vol. 22 (1981); Tuchman, Maurice S. Interview by author, July 29, 1996; Ward, Martha E., et al. Authors of Books for Young People. 2d ed. (1971), and Authors of Books for Young People. 3d ed. (1990); Who’s Who in World Jewry (1981): 178.
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Tuchman, Helene L.. "Lily Edelman." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 8, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/edelman-lily>.