1. “When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History,” by Massoud Hayoun. The New Press. 2019. Hardcover. 304 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-1620974162. Non-fiction.
Massoud Hayoun brilliantly writes of his grandparents’ lives while living as Jewish Arabs in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine and Los Angeles. The author writes of the importance of his family’s Jewish Arab identity. His grandparents lived at a time when being an Arab did not mean you were Muslim. It was a time, the author writes, when his grandfather strode along the Nile River in a “fashionable suit” long before arriving in Haifa to live in Israel.
2. “A Bend in the Stars,” by Rachel Barenbaum. Grand Central Publishing. 2019. Hardcover. 464 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-1538746264. Fiction.
A physicist and his younger sister, a surgeon, attempt escape from the brutality inflicted on Russian Jews before the beginning of World War I. Vanya, the older brother, is intent on finding a flaw with Einstein’s theory of relativity, and he needs to photograph a total solar eclipse to prove his work. The result of all of this is a story that is difficult to put down.
3. “Three Floors Up,” by Eshkol Nevo. Other Press. 2017. Paperback. 288 pages. English. ISBN-13:
Not new, but we absolutely loved this book.
There is so much going on in this building, you will be mesmerized. Amon lives on the first floor. He is a retired IDF officer who confesses his secrets to an army friend. Above him is Hani, the widow, whose husband’s job takes him away from home while she raises their two children. She agrees to take in her brother-in-law who is hiding from the cops and loan sharks. On the top floor is Devora, a former judge, who is trying to reconnect with an estranged son. She falls in love with someone who has his own secrets.
4. “We Stand Divided: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel,” by David Gordis. Ecco. 2019. Hardcover. 304 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-0062873699. Non-fiction.
David Gordis, a prolific author and defender of Israel, writes why it is difficult for liberal American Jews, mostly non-Orthodox, to fully get the Jewish state. He writes in his book that American Jews want to see Israel as a liberal democracy. But Gordis explains that Israel is an “ethnic democracy, founded as a refuge for people hounded on account of their ethnic identity.”
This book does an excellent job of explaining the growing chasm between liberal American Jews and Israel. It’s an important read.
5. “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” by Bari Weiss. Crown Publishers. 2019. Hardcover. 224 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-0593136058. Non-fiction.
New York Times writer Bari Weiss observed her bat mitzvah at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, the very shul where last year 11 Jews were gunned down by a white nationalist.
Weiss writes about the growth of anti-Semitism in this country and explains how it is no longer just the actions of neo-Nazis or white separatists that should keep Jewish communities vigilant. Anti-Semitism, she said has grown in the world’s most tolerant country, and Jews, she writes, need to be painfully aware of who and what is out there.
6. “America’s Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today,” by Pamela Nadell. W. W. Norton & Company. 2019. Hardcover. 336 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-0393651232. Non-fiction.
Emma Lazarus to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Bella Abzug to Barbara Streisand to so very many more. Pamela Nadell’s work gives us a strong course through a good read in the role of Jewish women from the 13 colonies to now. For those on your shopping list who are U.S. history buffs, this is as informative as it gets when it comes to the U.S. history of Jewish women. It’s the book we wish we were all given growing up in this country. It explains the important sociological roles Jewish women played not with their families, but in the eras they lived.
7. “We Were Strangers Once,” by Betsy Carter. Grand Central Publishing. 2018. Paperback. 336 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-1455571444. Fiction.
Betsy Carter captures well the feeling of Jewish people feeling adrift and longing for home.
World War II is fast approaching and Dr. Ergon Schneider escapes the Third Reich, coming to an uncertain future in America. There he finds people who are just like him, immigrants who are drawn by past memories.
8. “Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English,” by Natasha Solomons. Back Bay Books. 2011. Paperback. 357 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-0316077590. Fiction.
If there was a category called “Books You Might Have Missed,” this one is a winner.
The story is based on the author’s childhood experiences while spending summers at the cottage of her grandparents. The home was bought with Holocaust restitution money from Germany. It is a delightful read.
9. “Disarmed: Unconventional Lessons from the World’s Only One-Armed Special Forces Sharpshooter,” by Izzy Ezagui. Prometheus. 2018. Hardcover. 286 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-1633884274. Non-fiction.
An amazing, inspiring account of an American who joins the Israel Defense Forces, has his arm shot and amputated, and then returns to the battlefield. He became the world’s first and only one-armed battlefield sharp shooter.
10. “I Am Not a Spy: An American Jew Goes Deep in the Arab World and Israeli Army,” by Michael Bassin. WiDo Publishing. 2017. Paperback. 334 pages. English. ISBN-13: 978-1937178888. Non-fiction.
Michael Bassin decides to enroll at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE. When he tells his classmates that he is Jewish, they react negatively with suspicion. While on campus, he becomes a representative of the Jewish people, Israel and the U.S.
He goes on to work to promote understanding wherever he goes in the Middle East. He will go on to enlist in the IDF as a combat Arabic translator, where he becomes the “face of his unit during friendly and hostile interactions with the Palestinian people.”
By Phil Jacobs