Hanukkah begins in 2017 on Dec. 12, and so it is almost time to
celebrate Festival of Lights! And what better way to commemorate the holiday than with eight fantastic books, one for each night of the celebration?
I grew up in a multi-faith household, so Hanukkah has a special place in my heart because it was one of the few Jewish holidays we actually observed. I loved getting to sing and light the candles each night, and I feel a deep connection to the traditions that have been passed down through my family.
Storytelling is a big part of most Jewish holidays, and Hanukkah is certainly no exception. Every Jewish kid can recite the story about how the Maccabees had enough oil for only one night, but then miraculously the oil lasted for eight. So, it's fitting to spend some time during the holiday reading a good book.
Here are a few books I've selected especially for the Festival of Lights. Not all of these books are directly related to Hanukkah—in fact most of them aren't. But these are all books that, in my opinion, go right along with the spirit of the holiday. You'll find miracles, Jewish history, and of course, plenty of lights:
'The Art of Blessing the Day' by Marge Piercy
This beautiful collection of Jewish-themed poems from the great Marge Piercy is the perfect book to read and reflect on over the eight nights. Piercy's poems have Judaism at the core, but the words radiate outward and provide luminescent insight on all parts of life. For a taste of Piercy's poetry, read
"Season of skinny candles." Click here to buy. 'The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000 BCE – 1492 CE' by Simon Schama
If you're looking to get your Jewish history on, this is the book for you. Tied in with his BBC documentary, in this book Schama dives into the early history of the Jewish people, guiding you through with a warm voice characteristic of Schama's work. (Plus, once you finish this one, the second volume just came out.)
Click here to buy. 'The Weight of Ink' by Rachel Kadish
In this wonderful debut novel, Kadish imagines what it would have taken for a Jewish woman to have become a writer in the 16th century. She tells the story of a young woman who posed as a man in order to be a scholar, and the historians tracking her down centuries later. It's particularly fascinating because there are very little records of Jewish women in history, and Kadish delivers a wonderful exploration of how identity and history intertwine.
Click here to buy. 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union' by Michael Chabon
If you're looking for a Jewish adventure story, Michael Chabon's your guy. This brilliant novel takes place in Sitka, an independent Jewish colony in Alaska that, after sixty years, is about to become part of Alaska again. We follow the slightly off-the-rails homicide detective Meyer Landsman, as he works to solve a murder that may just be tied in closely with the fate of Sitka.
Click here to buy. 'The Worlds We Think We Know' by Dalia Rosenfeld
This marvelous debut short story collection centers on Jewish characters, with stories that take place in both the U.S. and Israel. Each of these stories will move you in their own unique way. Perhaps try reading a story each night of Hanukkah!
Click here to buy. 'Forest Dark' by Nicole Krauss
This charming book is a wild adventure about two people who come to Israel looking to rediscover themselves. Jules Epstein is recently retired, and has just given away everything, spending his last cents to travel to Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, Nicole, a young novelist, has come to the city to try to outrun her writer's block and failing marriage. A heartfelt read that you're certain to love.
Click here to buy. 'Flying Couch' by Amy Kurzweil
In this graphic novel memoir, Kurzweil gives readers an intimate portrait of her life and family that will certainly sweep you up. From the trauma passed down by her Holocaust survivor grandmother to Kurzwei's relationshp to her mother, this book tells a story of modern Jewish life that will speak to anybody, but especially to young, American Jewish women. A good book to pick up as you navigate your own family and heritage during the holiday season.
Click here to buy. 'A Different Light: The Big Book of Hanukkah' edited by Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre
If you want to learn more about Hanukkah in particular, this is the book to pick up. What I like about this anthology is that it takes you around the globe, showing you how Hanukkah is celebrated differently in different communities.
Click here to buy.