You never have to look far to find books, records, articles, and historical accounts of the Holocaust. And that’s fair. After all, the Holocaust was one of the most horrific events in history.
However, Jewish history is as rich and diverse a field as any other world religion. Out there are fascinating accounts of one of the most enduring people’s religion and culture. In fact, we’ve compiled a list of books that explore the gripping tales of successful Jewish immigrants, discuss ancient Jewish magic or answer all your burning questions about the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Whatever your interest, you’re sure to find a fitting read that covers some of the most compelling and rarely-discussed aspects of Jewish history.
Scattered Among the Nations
This “beautifully presented book on Jewish diversity around the world” explores the farthest reaches of the Jewish diaspora (The Jerusalem Post). In their research, the authors visited 30 countries across five continents to speak to members of even the most isolated Jewish communities. From the plains of Africa to the Bene Israel of India, where a handful of shipwreck survivors put down their roots, this eye-opening book reveals the faith and resilience that binds together the Jewish people.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the Yiddish language was increasingly falling into disuse. To the assimilated children of Jewish immigrants, books in Yiddish were meaningless and unintelligible. But to graduate student Aaron Lansky, they represented an entire body of Jewish literature and cultural history—an irreplaceable link to the past that was in danger of being lost forever.
In 1980, Lansky began to collect these books, rescuing them from attics, basements, demolition sites, and dumpsters so that they could be preserved and studied. His project ultimately saved 1.5 million Yiddish volumes. At once “a detective story, a profound history lesson, and a poignant evocation of a bygone world,” Outwitting History shares this remarkable true story (The Boston Globe).
Jews in Music
Jews have made major contributions to art and culture on a global scale, and music is no exception. This authoritative work of history chronicles the work of Jewish musicians, composers, and musicologists from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century. Examining everything from European touring violinists to Broadway musicals to the traditional songs that can be heard at synagogues, this in-depth book covers every aspect of Jewish participation in secular and religious music alike.
The Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism
In recent years, the Kabbalah—a school of thought in Jewish mysticism—has piqued the interest of people both within and outside the faith. With the help of original Jewish texts and other source material, acclaimed Torah scholar Israel Gutwirth breaks down the Kabbalah and dispels popular misconceptions about it. Learn about towering early figures of Jewish mysticism and how their influence ultimately came to shape the religion with this compelling read.
Save the Deli
In this travel memoir, self-proclaimed delicatessen connoisseur David Sax recounts his globe-trotting quest for the best hot pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup, and crusty rye bread that money can buy. Along the way, he examines the history of the deli and the cuisine it serves. Save the Deli isn’t just a culinary travelogue—it’s a cultural history and the story of the Jewish diaspora all rolled into one.
A History of the Jews
In three volumes, Dimont builds a rich and comprehensive portrait of the cultural and religious history of the Jewish people.
The Indestructible Jews traces the 4,000-year journey of the Jewish people to evoke a proud heritage while offering a hopeful vision of the future. The Jews in America offers an overview of Judaism in the United States from colonial times to 20th-century Zionism. Finally, in Appointment in Jerusalem, Dimont uses the Bible to explore the mystery surrounding whether Jesus was the Christian messiah or a member of a Jewish sect.
Through countless expulsions and migrations, various waves of immigration, Dimont recounts the cultural achievements and attitudes of American Jews, creating a thoughtful and fascinating account which offers fresh insights into questions that have surrounded Jewish history and religion for centuries.
Based on letters, documents, diary entries, and intimate personal remembrances of family lore, Birmingham constructs an engrossing portrait of opulent upper-class Jewish-American life over two centuries. He focuses on the bankers, brokers, financiers, philanthropists, and business tycoons who started with nothing and turned their family names into American institutions, despite the Gentile establishments which barred their inclusion due to their religion and backgrounds.
"The Rest of Us"
Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland fleeing pogroms and persecution were considered barbaric, uneducated, and too steeped in the traditions of the “old country” to be accepted by the more refined and already well-established German-Jewish community in America. These refugees were tough, though, and before you knew it they were moving up the ranks from New York’s ghetto to Hollywood. Here, Birmingham turns his attention from the established upper crust to the rest of the Jewish-American population.
Birmingham profiles a range of unforgettable descendants of these passionate and determined refugees, including radio pioneer David Sarnoff, makeup mogul Helena Rubinstein, Hollywood tycoons Samuel Goldwyn and Harry Cohn, Broadway composer Irving Berlin, and mobster Meyer Lansky to create a treasure trove of fascinating “rags-to-riches” success stories that celebrate the indomitable spirit of a unique community.
A French GI at Omaha Beach
Bernard Dargols’s granddaughter recounts the gripping life of her grandfather, who joined a foreign army to free his beloved homeland from tyranny. The thoroughly researched and thrilling account details Dargols’s beginning as a young Parisian student working in New York when the war broke out in 1939. While his family remained in France and was threatened by the Vichy regime’s anti-Semitic laws, Bernard enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight the occupying forces. Following grueling military training, a position as interpreter and translator for the Military Intelligence Service, and involvement in the liberation of Normandy, Dargols became a member of the American counter-espionage service until his discharge in 1946.
Arabs and Jews in Ottoman Palestine
The beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict is subject to debate, with 1967, 1948, and 1922 being thrown around as potential start dates. However, Alan Dowty asserts the earliest roots of the conflict trace back to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, when Arab residents hostilely viewed Jewish settlers as European foreigners. Through thorough, balanced research, Dowty demonstrates that Jewish settlers had tremendous incentive to minimize all obstacles to settlement, and that events that occurred over 125 years ago shaped the implacable conflict plaguing the Middle East today.
Amy Kurzweil is a young Jewish artist; her mother, a psychologist; and her grandmother, Bubbe, a World War II survivor who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto by disguising herself as a Gentile. In order to cope with Bubbe’s captivating history, Amy taught herself to draw to capture the entwining voices and histories of herself and her predecessors. Through these three wise, hilarious, and very different women, Amy uses Bubbe’s real testimony to create a portrait which investigates the legacy of trauma, the magic of family stories, and the meaning of home that will have you laughing out loud and crying in the corner.
3:10 to Boca
In a zany but original tale, Zane Greyberg offers humorous stories about fake Jewish legends of the Wild West, such as Davy Chronsky and Henny Young Moon. Find out how the Jews tamed the American frontier. Get acquainted with Jewish Indian tribes like the Mishagossi or Grossinga who would never scalp on the Sabbath. For the first time, the stories of brave, rugged Jews with big dreams and even bigger shmeckels is being told, so you’d better pay attention. Fans of Mel Brooks will appreciate this silly, yet illuminating take on Jewish tales.
Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer
In very straightforward prose, Bennis answers all your burning questions about Israel, Palestine, the U.S.’s relation to the Middle East, Zionism, anti-Semitism, the Oslo peace process, the election of Hamas to the Goldstone Report and the Palestinians' UN initiative. Together, her explanations provide a comprehensive understanding of the longstanding Palestinian–Israeli conflict.
Ancient Jewish Magic: A History
From the Second Temple to the rabbinic period, Bohak seeks to reconstruct a balanced historic picture on the cultural make-up of ancient Jewish magic. Based both on ancient magicians' own compositions and products in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, the place of magic within Jewish society, contemporary Jewish attitudes to magic, and the identity of its practitioners is explored. Special attention is paid to the processes of cross-cultural contacts between Jews and non-Jews, as well as to inner-Jewish creativity. The book seeks to explain the methodological underpinnings of all sound research in this field, and to highlight areas where further research is likely to prove fruitful.
Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe
Baumgarten draws on a rich trove of primary sources to produce an analytically detailed and deeply researched contribution to our understanding of the most basic building block of medieval Jewish communities—the family.
Concentrating on the special roles of mothers and children during the period of childhood from birth to age seven in Germany and northern France during the High Middle Ages, her study covers nearly every aspect of home life and childrearing, including pregnancy, midwifery, birth and initiation rituals, nursing, sterility, infanticide, remarriage, attitudes toward mothers and fathers, gender hierarchies, divorce, widowhood, early education, and the place of children in the home, synagogue, and community within the context of a Christian society.
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