The Spanish Jewish translator Ibn Tibbon (1120–1190) suggested, “Make books your companions.” Books can be our companions when we interact with them through the process of reading. The written word has the power to unite the moment and catalyze feeling. For me, reading and the importance of literacy have always been essential to living a fulfilled Jewish life. Whether we are being read to or reading on our own, the written word has the potential and power to transform and to inspire. I would like to encourage every Jewish person to read the books below. They have all made a difference in my life, and I hope they do the same for you:
1. Meditation from the Heart of Judaism, edited by Avram Davis. In this collection, contemporary Jewish teachers share their insights on Jewish spiritualty, meditation, and practice. Spiritual seekers must read this book to unpack and explore the diversity of Jewish spirituality.
2. Text Messages, a Torah Commentary for Teens, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin. This book condenses each Torah portion in a relevant and meaningful way for teens. Jewish educators must read this book to continue to reach their students through a contemporary and modern perspective.
3. Future Tense, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. To address the many challenges facing the global Jewish community in the 21st century, Rabbi Sacks has written this book of hope. Judaism is a future-oriented religion, and this book is a must-read that provides the opportunity to see how we can move forward together in the future as a united community.
4. Witness, by Rabbi Ariel Burger. This book chronicles Rabbi Burger’s unique relationship with the late Professor Elie Wiesel as his teaching assistant, mentee, and close associate. This is a must-read for anyone interested in pulling up a front-row seat in Professor Wiesel’s dynamic classroom at Boston University.
Selecting good English-language books of Jewish interest that retain the emotional charge of the classics while speaking to us about what matters at present is a tall order. This short list includes recent books you don’t want to miss.
Fiction: 1. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin. After their father dies, four siblings in late 1960s New York City seek out a fortune teller who claims to know when each of them will die. What they find out ends up changing the course of their lives. 2. Kaddish.com, by Nathan Englander. This novel is about a son’s failure to say Kaddish for his father, but much more complicated than that, the book’s interplay between technology and religion is fascinating. 3. The Flight Portfolio, by Julie Orringer. In this gripping historical novel, Varian Fry is an American journalist attempting to save the work and lives of Jewish artists fleeing the Holocaust.
Biography and Memoir: 1. Harvey Milk: His Lives and Death, by Lillian Faderman. The author gives us a multi-dimensional picture of the pioneering gay politician and martyred activist, and she brings his Jewish identity to the fore. 2. Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro. Investigative journalism and genetic sleuthing make for a profound memoir. Readers who wonder where they came from and how their ancestry informs their lives will find this book hard to put down.
Miscellany, But Mainly Fun: The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List, by Alana Newhouse. Not sure what Jewish food is or what it means? Are there traditional Jewish foods you “should” know about, but don’t? Here is a collection of the foods most significant to the Jewish people, culturally and historically, explored with essays, recipes, stories, and context.