Mort Ziff is Not Dead

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Mort Ziff is Not DeadWhat the Book is About:

It’s the winter of 1965, and Norman Fishbein has decided to use his contest winnings to fly his family from their home in Toronto to Palm Beach. Over the course of the week’s vacation, Norman makes friends with a girl his age and finds a new way to connect with his older brothers as they work together to help an aging comedian keep his job at the luxury hotel where they are staying. This heartwarming story of a young boy who takes his family on the trip of a lifetime — in more ways than one — will introduce young readers to a different era in Jewish American history.

Jewish Content and Values

  • Norman’s family is Jewish, and he is named after his great-grandmother Nachman according to the Jewish tradition of naming children after a deceased relative.
  • Norman’s older brother Marcus is preparing for his bar mitzvah before they leave for Florida.
  • Uncle Shlomo is a World War II survivor who speaks Yiddish.

Positive Role Models

  • Norman is a generous child who shares his winnings with his family. Norman and his new friend, Amy Horvath, are thoughtful and kind children who develop a friendship even as their older brother and sisters refuse to befriend each other. In addition, they persist in helping Mort Ziff, an aging comedian, get a new job when his old one is terminated.
  • Despite his personal history, Uncle Shlomo is cheerful and easygoing and helps the family get to the airport despite a terrible snowstorm.

Content Advisory


Talk it Over

When Norman wins $1,000 in a mall contest, his brothers think he should share it with them. His parents encourage him to put it towards a new roof or a new family car. At first, Norman wants to spend it on a new model airplane for himself but ultimately decides to take his family on vacation. How would you spend the money?

More for You

Mort Ziff’s routine is reminiscent of other famous “Borscht Belt” Jewish comedians, who entertained in upstate New York from the 1920s until the 1970s, mostly performing for Jewish audiences, who were excluded from other resorts. Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Rodney Dangerfield, and Mel Brooks all excelled at this self-deprecating style of humor that was peppered with colorful Yiddish expressions. Scholars have noted that humor can serve as a crucial coping mechanism in the face of anti-Semitism and oppression.

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