Quick: What was the last Jewish book you read?

Happy May, y’all! To celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, we’re handing our platform over to the hosts of the Greater Austin Jewish Book Club to talk about their recommended reading for the month.

Last year, we launched the Greater Austin Jewish Book Club, fueled by our mutual love of reading and our desire to create connections rooted in a wide range of Jewish stories. Don’t get us wrong – we’re passionate about meaningful Holocaust education as a crucial part of fighting a rising tide of antisemitism. Yet we are just as passionate about the importance of reading books that feature Jewish characters simply living their lives. Our existence encompasses so much more than tragedy. So when BookPeople invited us to curate a selection of books to mark Jewish-American Heritage Month, we knew right away we’d want to elevate some titles that reflect a wide range of Jewish experience. 

You’ll find books we’ve read at our book club, like Isabel Kaplan’s NSFW, whose Jewish characters explore themes of workplace harassment and sticky mother-daughter relationships.

Or consider Dani Shapiro’s Signal Fires, which follows two families tied together by an accident over multiple generations. As Shapiro herself said in a recent interview, “To me, it is a very Jewish book that doesn’t announce itself as such. It really was a feeling of wanting the Jewishness to simply be embedded in this family.”

You’ll see novels we have shared with our children, like R.J. Palacio’s graphic novel White Bird (a spinoff from the “Wonder” universe) and Gordon Korman’s Linked, set at a Colorado middle school where swastikas suddenly appear. Natasha Diaz’s Color Me In introduces teen readers to Nevaeh Levitz, who must navigate her parents’ divorce, explore her biracial Jewish identity, and yes, find love amidst all the tumult. 

We also included books with culturally Jewish references, such as Elizabeth McCracken’s The Hero of This Book, as well as those featuring observant Orthodox Jews like Jean Metzer’s delightful rom-com Matzah Ball. The latter includes a distinctly Jewish “meet cute,” a Hanukkah-themed gala and a romantic Shabbat encounter.

And don’t forget nonfiction! Michael W. Twitty’s celebrated Koshersoul is a pastiche of memoir and ode to Jewish and African foodways that takes readers on a compelling journey through his experiences as a Black gay man in observant circles.

Kasher in the Rye is stand-up comic and producer Moshe Kasher’s wild coming-of-age ride, pitched between his mother in Oakland, his father in Brooklyn’s Satmar community, his teen-age struggle with drugs, and his life as the hearing child of deaf parents. 

In short, there are a lot of ways to be Jewish in America, which means reading about it shouldn’t focus on just one aspect of Jewishness. We are often reminded of educator Rudine Sims Bishop’s famous charge to ensure that books for children should serve as mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. We agree, and extend that challenge to readers of all ages and all backgrounds. What a gift it is to recognize ourselves in the pages we read! And what an easy way to walk in a person’s shoes who has had a completely different life experience than you. 

So, yes, Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night are rightly held up as classics of Jewish literature – but we ask that you don’t stop there. Use the books we’ve cited as a springboard to explore the breadth and depth of Jewish existence. Your life on and off the page will be richer for it.


NSFW – Isabel Kaplan

Signal Fires – Dani Shapiro

The Hero of This Book – Elizabeth McCracken

Matzah Ball – Jean Meltzer 

Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow  – Gabrielle Zevin 

Fleishman is in Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner  

Heartburn – Nora Ephron 

The Ritual Bath (or any of her books) – Faye Kellerman 

Non fiction

Koshersoul – Michael W. Twitty

The Girl in the Middle – Anais Granofsky 

Kasher in the Rye – Moshe Kasher 

Let There be Light – Liana Finck


Monster Club – Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel

White Bird – R.J. Palacio 

Linked – Gordon Korman 

Some Kind of Hate – Sarah Darer Littman

Color Me In – Natasha Díaz 

The Very Best Sukkah, A Story from Uganda – Shoshana Nambi, Moran Yogev

The Prince of Steel Pier – Stacy Nockowitz

Mariette Hummel Simons and Sharyn Vane manage the Greater Austin Jewish Book Club. They also are among the co-founders of ATXKind, a grassroots advocacy group fighting antisemitism. 

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