May is Jewish American Heritage Month which serves to pay tribute to the generations of American Jews that helped form the Jewish American culture we know today. Being a Jew can mean many things. To some it means going to synagogue, keeping kosher, and celebrating Jewish holidays. To others it means spending time with family, eating bagels, and kvetching. For me (and many others), it is a combination of all of those things. To celebrate how Jewish heritage has led to the many ways of being a Jew today, here are 6 books that reflect on the modern Jewish experience.
1. It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories By Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman
This book is a collection of short stories all from the perspective of Jewish teens and young adults. Stories of summer camp, Jewish dating, Hanukkah parties, and more are all included in this funny and interesting read that hopes to show “yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be!” The book was written and edited by a diverse group of Jewish authors: Katherine Locke, Laura Silverman, David Levithan, Nova Ren Suma, Dahlia Adler, Adi Alsaid, Elie Lichtschein, Alex London, and Mayim Bialik!
2. Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life-In Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There) By Sarah Hurwitz
Political speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz was never super connected to her Jewish identity until she took an introductory Judaism course at the age of 36. That class allowed her to rediscover her faith and the way she was able to connect Judaism to her already established lifestyle and beliefs. Different interpretations of God, Jewish meditation, and Jewish ethics were just some of the topics that led Hurwitz back to her Jewish roots. Through this memoir, Hurwitz hopes to encourage Jews and non-Jews to continue to learn, question, and understand why Judaism matters.
3. The Last Words We Said By Leah Scheier
After Danny disappeared everything changed. Danny’s girlfriend, Ellie, is the only one convinced he is still alive because she can still see him. The story alternates between the past and the present: meeting, falling in love, and coping when it all comes crashing down. Now here’s the interesting part: the community and all of the characters are all modern Orthodox Jews. It’s not often that Orthodox Jews are the main characters in a YA mental health, romance, semi-mystery book. Through this novel, author Leah Scheier is able to show how Orthodox Judaism intersects with the real issues we all face. Navigating relationships, figuring out your faith, therapy, and societal judgment are all a part of this beautifully Jewish read.
4. Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe. By Manishtana
African-American and Orthodox Jewish blogger MaNishtana’s book Thoughts From a Unicorn is a witty collection of essays, anecdotes, and other pieces of writing. Through this book, Manishtana shares thoughts about his life, Jewish background, and experiences with antisemitism, racism, and the intersection between all of these things.
5. Today, Tonight, Tomorrow By Rachel Lynn Solomon
Enemies…to friends….to lovers? It’s not the most unique trope, but when mixed with a high school setting, an intense competition, and a Jewish element, it’s sure to be an interesting story. Today, Tonight, Tomorrow tells the story of Rowan Roth and Neil McNair, high school rivals that begin to spend more time together during a senior class scavenger hunt throughout the city of Seattle. Once they finally get to talking, they both realize they are Jewish and have both experienced antisemitism in their lives. Through this sweet and fun story, Solomon conveys how modern antisemitism can be subtle, but still harmful.
6. Fleishman Is In Trouble By Taffy Brodesser-Akner
A couple of months after their separation, Rachel Fleishman shows up at her ex-husband Toby’s apartment, drops off the kids, and disappears. Amid his new, more carefree lifestyle, this is not exactly something that Toby wants to be dealing with. As he searches for her, this excitingly Jewish story unfolds. With Jewish themes of identity, assimilation, and mentions of Shabbat dinners and summer camp, this novel feels Jewish at its core. The novel is set to be adapted as a limited series on FX and the cast list alone furthers its Jewishness. Seriously: Jesse Eisenberg, Adam Brody, Josh Radnor, and Lizzy Caplan are set to star. Alongside these famous Jews are Clare Danes and Christian Slater.
There is no one definition of modern Judaism. It can look like finding your identity, teens falling in love, and much much more. I hope these Jewish and Jew-ish picks inspire you to learn more about diversity in Judaism, confront the stereotypes and biases you may have within yourself, and have fun reading about these amazing Jewish characters!
For more Jewish book recommendations, click here!