A while back, a friend asked for book recommendations. To say that Jews are people of the book is an understatement. Walk into any Jewish person’s home or sit in any rabbi’s office and you will see tons of books. We are not just encouraged, but required to keep learning. We read Torah every single year. In fact on Simchat Torah we finish the last chapter and read the first in one night. We’re always learning with the knowledge that the learning doesn’t ever stop.
I love that about Judaism. I love to learn and I love that it will never end. Below is a list of books that I’ve read and some of my thoughts on them.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin Hillel-If Not Now, When? This was an easy and quick read, but incredibly eye-opening as a convert. Some of the quotes and theories that I’d grown up thinking were Jesus’ thoughts weren’t originally to Jesus, but to Hillel. It makes sense, Jesus was a Jew and learned Torah just like all Jewish boys, but he’s given the credit for profound thought, in the Christian world.
On May 16th I attended a talk in Riverdale with frum lesbians. I picked up the anthology Keep Your Wives Away From Them-Orthodox Women Unorthodox Desires edited by Miryam Kabakov. This book gives an honest, frank, and poignant account of Orthodox lesbians and the communities they live in, the communities they’ve made for themselves, and the communities they’ve come from.
The Choosing-A Rabbi’s Journey from Silent Nights to High Holy Days by Andrea Myers is a must-read for many folks. If you’re a born-Jew I always think it’s important to learn the stories of other Jews; both born and Jews by Choice. Rabbi Myers gives us a clear, concise, funny, and at times a very serious and frank look at what it means to become part of a people. If you’re a Jew-by-Choice or in the process of converting, this book is great. If you’re LGBTQ and Jewish, this book is great. Andrea Myers takes us through the Jewish Holiday Cycle in less than 200 pages. In “one year” you will laugh out loud and cry as you walk through her footsteps.
Finding Godby Rifat Sonsina and Daniel B. Syme as instructed by my conversion rabbi, I’m reading this book again with the question, “Who is God for me?” I’ve finished it again and I still don’t have a solid answer. This book, though, gives us many responses from scholars, rabbis, sages, philosophers, and text from Torah all trying to answer the question, “Who is God.” I think that I don’t have an answer for you, but I have an answer for me-it’s always shifting. Today, May 22 2011, God is my friend. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably tell you something different.
Entering Jewish Prayer-A Guide to Personal Devotion and the Worship Serviceby Reuven Hammer I find myself, to this day, reading the transliteration with the congregation at shul then reading the English, reflecting on the English and being several pages behind. Why are we saying this right now? Where in the Torah did we get this prayer. Why do I have to wash my right hand before my left? or is it my left had before my right? What is the blessing for hand washing anyway? This book has become my reference for prayer answers in English.
The Jewish Home-A Guide for Jewish Livingby Daniel B. Syme at less than 200 pages this book is another go-to place for some answers to questions like What is the meaning of Tishah B’Av? or Are you really supposed to get drunk on Purim or When could a Jewish wedding take place. This book takes you through the Jewish Holiday cycle as well as the Jewish Life Cycle answering FAQs along the way.
An Invitation to Shabbatby Ruth Perelson is an incredibly easy-to-read Shabbat “How To” book. I finished it in a subway trip. It includes a CD of Shabbat music with sheet music.
The Colors of Jews-Racial Politics and Radical Diasporismby Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz was the first book on Judaism that I read, actually. I put it down about three chapters in and picked up another book because I was overwhelmed with a subject I knew almost nothing about. I finished reading it after reading several other books on Judaism. The book is extremely knowledgeable and has a very strong point of view. For me, it read very academic a majority of the time.
Being Jewish-The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today by Ari L. Goldman was the first Jewish book I read cover to cover on a trip to DC. I absolutely loved it. It is easy to read, has a lot of history, as well as having a very modern feel. He talks about the Jewish Life Cycle, with an inclusiveness to LGBT Jews as well as a thorough outline of the Holidays. Maybe it was the fact that it was the first Jewish book I opened but I loved it.
Choosing a Jewish Life-A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for their Family and Friendsby Anita Diamant. This book was also a really great easy to understand read. Literally anything you want to know about conversion from initial conversations with family members, stories of converts, to what happens at a Beit Din is covered in this book. Totally recommend it to anyone who is thinking about converting but hasn’t talked to a rabbi yet. It answered a lot of questions for me and I felt really prepared before my initial phone call to a rabbi.
Living a Jewish Life-Jewish Traditions, Customs, and Values for Today’s Familiesby Anita Diamant. Looking back through this book there are entire sections that I have underlined or highlighted. The way that Anita writes her books is so easy to swallow while being really frank and incredibly honest. She talks frankly about Christmas and it’s sometimes confusing implications on Jewish children.
From Ghetto to Ghetto-An African American Journey to Judaismby Ernest H. Adams is an amazing memoir by a man who discovered Judaism fairly late in life. We learn about the struggles of his youth to the details to a Jewish wedding I wish I could’ve seen in real-life. Mr. Adam’s retelling of his life is brutally honest at times but as a black woman converting to Judaism I related to many of his struggles. Any Jew by Choice would benefit reading this book, as well as born Jews.
The Sabbathby Abraham Joshua Heschel is more amazing the words can describe. Reading this book, and re-reading it helps to put a value on the importance of Shabbat. If any new Jew or “lazy” Jew wants to know why Shabbat is so important to the Jewish people, I would recommend this book only. He writes, “The Sabbath, thus, is more than an armistice, more than an interlude; it is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above. All that is divine in the world is brought into union with god. This is Sabbath, and the true happiness of the universe”
Black, White, and Jewish-An Autobiography of a Shifting Self by Rebecca Walker is the namesake for my blog. She clearly has a profound impact on me but not in the way that her book reflects. Walker is a born Jew and grew up shifting from Black, to White to Jewish. Still, her open story telling and heart breaking and sometimes humorous story is uplifting, motivating, and inspirational. It’s not entirely Jewish, per se, but the ability to understand her perspective is outstanding.
Updated on 10.13.11