Known for centuries as “people of the book,” the Jewish people have long celebrated the power of the written word. As we celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, also known as #JewishandProud Month, check out these books that are sure to boost your Jewish pride when you turn the page.

From memoirs and novels to anthologies and history texts, these titles span the Jewish literary tradition and explore Jews’ relationships to Israel; the challenges and joys of living in the Diaspora; the variety of ways one can be Jewish, and why that’s meaningful and special.

  1. Here All Along by Sarah Hurwitz

Sarah Hurwitz, a former head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama, walked away from Judaism right after her bat mitzvah. But years later, after the end of a romance, she set out on a spiritual journey that brought her right back home. Her travel diary became a book titled Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There).

“I had always thought of myself as a good person, but the Jewish ethics we studied set a much higher bar for honesty, generosity, and basic human decency than I had ever thought to set for myself,” Hurwitz writes. “Seen through adult eyes, the whole sensibility of Judaism spoke to me – its intellectual rigor, its creativity, and humanity, its emphasis on questioning and debate.”

Sarah Markowitz, Assistant Director, Education and Programs for JCRB|AJC Kansas City, recommends the book for “the millennial Jews who may have disliked Hebrew School and now want to reconnect with Judaism in a way that will fit within their lives.”

Available wherever books are sold.

Hear Hurwitz talk about her journey on a past episode of AJC’s podcast People of the Pod. (Interview starts at 10:17)

  1. Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Before you contemplate what being Jewish means to you, perhaps you should contemplate what being Jewish even means?

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, an Orthodox trained rabbi and spiritual leader of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, tries to provide a few answers in Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History.

“Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of teenage and adult Jews are seeking Jewish involvements – even Jewish leadership positions – all the while hoping no one will find out their unhappy little secret: They are Jewishly illiterate,” Telushkin wrote.

Updated editions reflect the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the historic nomination of U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate for the 2000 election, the Second Intifada, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the war between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 and Iran’s nuclear program.

“When I started at AJC, it became readily apparent how much I didn't know about the past or present of Jewish life or Israel,” said AJC Project Interchange’s Assistant Director for Business and Resource Development Chris Townsend. “The book was so incredibly helpful in explaining so many things, and so incredibly proud of the heritage and honoring the continuum of Judaism.”

Available wherever books are sold.

  1. Exodus by Leon Uris

AJC CEO David Harris pulled his first all-nighter as a teenager reading Exodus, the 1958 historical novel by Leon Uris. The tale of Jewish fighter Ari Ben Canaan takes readers from the early Jewish settlement of Mandatory Palestine and the aftermath of the Holocaust to the triumph of the birth of the state of Israel in 1948

“I was 14 or 15 at the time and I needed a lot of sleep,” Harris recounted. “But I remember sitting down in the armchair in our living room to read this book one night and I didn’t stop until I finished the next morning. The book gripped me and transformed me in many ways. I became admiring of the Israel that was being built and of the kinds of people depicted in the book like Ari Ben Canaan and it began to appeal to me.”

The book spent a record eight months at the top of The New York Times Bestsellers List and Paul Newman starred as Ben Canaan in the 1960 blockbuster film based on the book. Its success inspired Jewish men and women to openly display their Jewish pride.

Available wherever books are sold.

Hear how Exodus inspired AJC’s CEO in this Advocacy Anywhere program: An Improbable Jewish Journey with AJC CEO David Harris.

  1. Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis

Jewish professionals are often asked to do the impossible: recommend one single book that successfully explains the most misunderstood country on the map. In 2016, journalist Daniel Gordis finally gave many of them an answer with Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn. Perhaps that’s why the hardly concise volume received the 2016 National Jewish Book Award as “Book of the Year.”

Its appendices alone serve as a handy guide, listing key figures, non-English terms, Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a roster of Israel’s presidents and prime ministers, and suggestions for more books to read.

“Israel is a story of a homeless people that kept a dream alive for millennia, of a people’s redemption from the edge of the abyss, of a nation forging a future when none seemed possible,” Gordis writes in the introduction. “Never had the Jews left Zion willingly, and never had they ceased believing that they would one day return.”

“This book explores the history of Israel and the Jewish people's evolution with the land over thousands of years,” said AJC Assistant Director of Digital Advocacy Deena Fisch. “This historic account showcases Jewish resiliency in the face of hardship, and the unique relationship we have with our homeland- the place that makes me most proud to be Jewish- Eretz Yisrael.”

Available wherever books are sold.

Hear Gordis on AJC’s podcast People of the Pod explaining why the two-state solution is still worth pursuing.

  1. It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Oth­er Jew­ish Stories edited by Lau­ra Silverman and Kather­ine Locke

Jewish authors Laura Silverman and Katherine Locke encountered very few Jewish characters in the novels they read growing up, unless the book centered on the Holocaust.  After publishing their debut novels in 2017, Silverman proposed a solution: a compilation of 14 short stories on a range of Jewish experiences, written by Jewish authors, about Jewish teens.

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Oth­er Jew­ish Stories includes the stories of a girl who worries she’s not Jewish enough for her more observant boyfriend and another girl who feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. It includes the tale of a boy who falls in love with his camp counselor and another boy whose “neu­roses about not being Jew­ish was, in some ways, the very thing that con­firmed he was Jew­ish.” It also includes a foreword by American actress, game show host, and author Mayim Bialik.

“The notion that young Jews feel the need to attach to a Judaism that is fractured is important,” Bialik writes. “The feelings young Jews may be having about being where they fit in are real. Jews of all backgrounds need to find a common ground where we all can stand together. This anthology is that common ground.”

“It makes you feel seen as a Jewish American,” said Atara Lakritz, producer of AJC’s podcast, People of the Pod. “It’s about teenagers but can be appreciated by all ages.”

Available wherever books are sold.

  1. Snow in August by Pete Hamill

Based on the late great journalist Pete Hamill’s stint as a Shabbos goy in Brooklyn, Snow in August tells the tale of a young boy from an Irish Catholic neighborhood who witnesses the brutal beating of a shopkeeper by a local gang. But instead of telling the police, he confides in a rabbi. The novel follows their friendship and the drama that unfolds when the gang disapproves.

Diane Lieberman, Associate Director of AJC New England, said when it was first published in the 1990s, her three teenagers all read it with her and have re-read it for years afterward.

“It taught us all more about empathy, learning from ‘the other,’ the importance of interreligious dialogue to help combat antisemitism, and of course, baseball!”

Available wherever books are sold.

  1. Day After Night by Anita Diamant

In her historical novel Day After Night, Anita Diamant explores the miraculous perseverance of Holocaust surviors retraumatized when they reach the Promised Land at the end of World War II.

Inspired by a photograph of four unknown women linked arm in arm at a kibbutz, Diamant invented four 20-something characters who help the Palmach, the unofficial Jewish fighting unit, orchestrate a jail break. But the prisoners are no ordinary inmates.

Diamant’s novel is based on the true story of a daring rescue from the Atlit Detention Camp where the British incarcerated European Holocaust survivors who tried to seek refuge in Mandatory Palestine.

Readers meet Tedi, a Dutch Jew; Zorah, a sur­vivor of a con­cen­tra­tion camp; Shayn­del, a Zion­ist from Poland; and Leonie, a Jew from Paris as they navigate life inside the barbed wire of Atlit and after they escape.

The book gradually reveals each woman’s horrific memories, her moral quandaries, her relationship with the other three after losing everyone else she loved, and her relationship with God.

Available wherever books are sold.

  1. The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Chaim Potok’s debut novel The Chosen, is a classic tale of two Orthodox Jewish softball players, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders, who live less than five blocks apart in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Reuven and Danny both wear yarmulkes, but Danny also wears the religious attire of his Hasidic community. Their sports rivalry symbolizes their religious contrast.

Through the lens of their unlikely friendship and each boy’s relationship with his father, the book explores issues of identity, religiosity, friendship, Zionism, and the Talmud against the backdrop of the years between the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel.

For many American Jews, Potok’s novel was the first piece of American literature that featured religious Jews as the main characters. Its title refers to the term “chosen people,” which refers to the special burden Jews believe they are given to carry in this world. But it also refers to the choices we make in life to satisfy others and ourselves.

Available wherever books are sold.

  1. Being Jewish by Ari Goldman

If you worry that you’re not Jewish enough or most American Jews aren’t, pick up Ari Goldman’s examination of Being Jewish. A longtime religion reporter for The New York Times, Goldman applies his journalism chops and his Orthodox Jewish upbringing to chronicle and affirm the diversity of American Jewry.

“This is not a how-to book, but a what-they-do book,” he writes. “We are Smor­gas­bord Jews. Amer­i­can Jews come to the great table of Jew­ish obser­vance take what best suits them. No two buf­fet plates are the same … Being Jew­ish is about feel­ing good. It is about find­ing meaning.”

Manya Brachear Pashman, the host of People of the Pod, considers Goldman a mentor in many ways. He was her journalism professor 20 years ago. But in recent years, he has asked her to help him teach journalism students what it means to be Jewish.

“Just like the book, our presentation illustrated for aspiring religion reporters that there is no right or wrong way to be Jewish,” she said. “It also affirmed my personal journey as what I like to call a ‘Jew in progress.’”

Available wherever books are sold.

Read Brachear Pashman’s column for The Times of Israel in which she asks: “Who Am I to Teach a Course on Judaism?”

  1. Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue by Professor Amanda L. Tyler and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue. This verse from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Deuteronomy adorned the wall of the chambers of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The English translation is also the title of Ginsburg’s first posthumously published book, which was headed toward publication when she passed away on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in September 2020.

Ginsburg and her collaborator, her former law clerk and Berkeley Law professor Amanda L. Tyler, assembled details of Ginsburg’s family life and storied career with notable briefs and oral arguments, some of Ginsburg’s last speeches, and her favorite opinions that she wrote as a Supreme Court justice, many in dissent.  

The title is a bit of a play on words, referring to Ginsburg’s guiding philosophy, but also pledging to the justice herself that we will continue her pursuit of “a more perfect Union,” even after she is gone.

It’s a reminder of another Jewish teaching captured in the Pirkei Avot, a collection of Jewish teachings and maxims from Rabbinic sages: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Available wherever books are sold.

Hear from another one of Ginsburg’s former law clerks, Abbe Gluck, as she reflects on the associate justice’s legacy on AJC’s podcast, People of the Pod.