7 Eye-opening Books About Pioneering Jewish Icons

There are many important Jewish people who have led inspirational lives. Read on to learn about books that give us a peek into who they were.

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Book covers of The Mayor of Castro Street, All Rivers Run to the Sea, and Einstein: His Life and Universe on a light blue background.

The beauty of literature is how it can teach people about a variety of subjects that they may not have fully explored. Specifically, we can learn about many people’s life stories from books. Whether it is autobiographical or biographical, a person’s inspirational story can leap off of the pages. When it comes to inspirational life stories, there are many Jewish figures with personal narratives to share. Many of these figures have faced adversity in their life and had to fight through society’s expectations, which they did so successfully. These books have some of the most inspirational stories about great Jewish icons.

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the first Jewish female Supreme Court Justice and a champion for women’s rights. Through her journey to the top, her work has inspired young women everywhere. Along the way, she decided to give Americans an inside look into her thought process and her time as a Supreme Court Justice. That led to her book, My Own Words

Book cover of My Own Words with Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Supreme Court Justice robe looking off to her left.
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This autobiography is the first one penned by Ginsburg since she became a Supreme Court Justice. It contains various writings from Ginsburg herself, from her time as an ambitious child to her large accomplishments as an adult and as a judge on America’s highest court. The book has a variety of Ginsburg’s viewpoints, which allows readers to feel like they are truly learning about her life.

Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts

Harvey Milk was one of the biggest trailblazers for gay rights in American history. He was the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Unfortunately, his time was cut short as he was assassinated at 48. Still, his legacy lives on today. It is important to be educated about the work that Milk has done for the gay community. That is why journalist Randy Shilts wrote Milk’s biography, The Mayor of Castro Street.

Book cover of The Mayor of Castro Street with Harvey Milk smiling and staring forward in a suit and in black and white.
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The book’s title comes from the street in San Francisco, which was home to a significant portion of San Francisco’s gay population. Shilts describes how the gay community in San Francisco grew and the important role that Milk played in that growth. He talks about the work that Milk has accomplished and why we should all remember his name. Even though Milk died before he could write his own autobiography, this book still portrays his impact well.

All in a Lifetime by Dr. Ruth Westheimer

When it comes to sex advice and education, Dr. Ruth Westheimer is one of the biggest icons on the subject. Her radio show became a huge success that millions of people would tune into in order to get sex advice. Her sex positivity and frankness were admirable, and her confidence is an aspiration of many people. However, before her success, Westheimer went through some serious events that shaped her into who she was as a person. In order to show these experiences, Westheimer wrote her memoir All in a Lifetime.

Book cover of All in a Lifetime with a picture of Dr. Ruth Westheimer dressed up in an oval in the corner with a gold border and a background of dark red roses and intricate patterns with a dark red border on top and gold borders on the bottom.
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Westheimer came from Germany, and World War II was a large part of her childhood. She was sent away by her parents, who were later killed. After years of traveling around Europe, she made her way to America in hopes of the American dream. From there, she built up her career in the media and worked hard at every opportunity to get to the point of having her own show. There are a lot of highs and lows in Westheimer’s life that she worked through, and this autobiography explains how she was able to handle everything that came her way.

All Rivers Run to the Sea by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel gained a large amount of notoriety when he wrote Night, which details his experiences in concentration camps. Wiesel’s harrowing account gave people a first-hand view of the horrors that happened during the Holocaust. With his notoriety, Wiesel fought for many Jewish causes and human rights, as he wanted everyone to feel safe. Even though it was his most famous book, Night was certainly not the only book that Wiesel wrote. He wrote dozens of others, including a separate autobiography, All Rivers Run to the Sea.

Book cover of All Rivers Run to the Sea with Elie Wiesel looking forward with the tips of his fingers touching each other and his lips while he is in a suit.
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While Night focuses on a significant chapter in Wiesel’s youth, All Rivers Run to the Sea takes a greater look at a larger part of Wiesel’s life. It shows his life after the concentration camps, including what happened to the lead up to his writing Night and a little bit after. This book may not show him all the way until the end, but it covers a large portion of Wiesel’s life and shows experiences of his that some people may not have thought to learn about before.

Zabar’s: A Family Story with Recipes by Lori Zabar

In New York City, Zabar’s has become one of the most reputable and historic food stores. From its wide variety of food to its frequent mentions in popular media, Zabar’s is a food store that anyone visiting New York City should check out. It all started with immigrants Louis and Lilly Zabar, who had a dream for their future. Almost a century later, their granddaughter Lori Zabar has taken their life experiences and put them in her own Zabar’s history book, Zabar’s: A Family Story with Recipes.

Book cover of Zabar's A Family Story With Recipes with two old men standing behind a deli counter with jarred food behind them and a white background.
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Lori starts the story from when her grandfather left Ukraine for America and describes how his ambition grew. She talks about what he was building and what he wanted Zabar’s to be. Lori also talks about what happened when Louis passed the storefront on to the next generation and how they were able to help the store grow to be even bigger than Louis could have imagined. The Zabar family is an inspirational one for how they were able to make a food store so iconic, and Lori’s book demonstrates the importance of the family’s hard work.

All About Me! by Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks is one of the most well-known comedians of the 20th century, and for good reasons. From The Producers to Blazing Saddles, Brooks’ movies have cracked up audiences everywhere and are still talked about today. The decades of successful work that Brooks has under his belt demonstrates how much he has impacted the comedy industry, with his influences still popping up today. Brooks has worked hard, and he talks all about his hard work in his autobiography All About Me!

Book cover of All About Me! with young Mel Brooks in black and white laughing with his teeth out in a gray background with the book cover having a white background.
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The book starts with Brooks’ beginning as a poor child during the Great Depression, to his time during World War II, to him actually breaking out in comedy. He gives readers a behind the scenes look at his career and inside secrets about some of his best work. It is a book for fans of his to understand what actually went on during the makings of his films. From the personal stories to the entertainment stories, this book introduces readers to the real Mel Brooks.

Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

A list of inspiring Jewish figures would not be complete without Albert Einstein. The scientist changed the landscape for the science field and could be considered one of the smartest people in modern history. His work on theoretical physics has shaped the way all of us see the world. He put a lot of effort into his work and did not let anything stop him. His story is inspirational and historian Walter Isaacson wanted to share that story with the world. That is why he wrote Einstein: His Life and Universe.

Book cover of Einstein: His Life and Universe with Albert Einstein looking forward with a small smile in a beige suit with a gray background and a red border at the bottom and all words in gold letters.
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By no means did Einstein have a perfect career. He had multiple setbacks in his work, some of which can be attributed to his abrasive personality. There were many people who doubted him, but Einstein persevered. The book shows Einstein’s life from beginning to end, which includes how he developed his ideas and theories that have formed science as we know it.

All of these people have left an important mark on history. They all fought against all of the obstacles that came their way and were able to reach the success that we recognize them for today. We may hear in passing some details about their lives, but these books give full stories that do not leave any stone unturned. Their stories show how these icons became stars with great achievements, and they can help any reader believe that they can attain the same fate.


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