My Jewish Library: Book Ideas for Hanukkah


Raised in a deeply Jewish home, I knew the basics of Jewish practice.  However, as with many boomers, during my college years, my Jewish practice faded to Hanukkah latke parties and not much else.

Post college, my observance continued to lapse… until I became pregnant. That life change made me realize I wanted to raise our family Jewishly.  Except after years without regular practice, I didn’t know where to start! My husband was willing but his Jewish knowledge was even more fragmentary than mine.

So, I checked the local bookstore for introductory guides (these being pre-internet days) and found a book called, comfortingly, To Be A Jew by Hayim Halevy Donin.To Be a Jew by Hayim Halevy Donin

This volume became a dog-eared resource over the years providing an overall guide to holidays, prayers, practices and rituals that would help us create a Jewish home.  It became our “bible” of Jewish observance. Even today, this stained and tattered book is still my go to resource.

Over the years, we’ve certainly collected and read other books that helped deepen and amplify the meaning of holidays.  We bought Haggadot for Passover and found children’s books that deepened our children’s Jewish connection.

As the people of the book, Jews have always turned to words and pages to help light the way of our lives. As we all prepare for Hanukkah gift-giving this year, I thought it would be fun to crowd source favorite or treasured Jewish books that your family enjoys or that were meaningful to you at some point in your life to inspire others’ holiday giving.

I invite you to share a book or three with us. Why was it meaningful to you?  Who recommended it to you? Sometimes, it may be the referrer that made all the difference as you’ll see from two of my three recommendations below.

jtbJacob the Baker by Noah benShea.  This gentle retelling of Hassidic tales by a simple baker offers ancient wisdom for our modern age.  This book was recommended by Rabbi Stan Levy of Bnai Horin in Los Angeles who taught the Jewish spirituality classes that enriched our young family and our learning when we lived there.



drivenleafAs a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg. This powerful novel of the Talmudic sages in Roman times captures the tug between being Jewishly observant but also part of the contemporary culture. It feels vividly contemporary to life today. My first copy was lent to me by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, when were young colleagues at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) in Los Angeles.



Dovekeepers-paperback-thumbThe Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. This brilliant re-imagining of life at Masada in ancient times made our 2014 visit to Israel and this desert plateau deeply real. In every crannied rock high above the Negev, we could imagine the lives of rebel Jews on a barricaded plateau holding out against the Roman invaders in 70 C.E.


Now it’s YOUR TURN to share.  What Jewish books do you treasure and why? What books shaped your Jewish life or that of your family? What’s your favorite Jewish book to give as a gift?

And if anyone knows a children’s book that’s perfect for a little Jewish grandchild in an intermarried family, please let me know!

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Mimi Sells

Written by Mimi Sells

Mimi is the former OFJCC Chief Marketing Officer and subsequently Senior Advisor for Special Projects, which means she worked on top secret activities which included spearheading the creation of the Oasis Play Space. She believes a healthy life includes walking 10,000 steps a day and eating the four basic food groups: chocolate, cookies, ice cream and candy.

1 Comment

  1. Irene Abrams says:

    I loved Mimi’s choice of books., and look forward to reading To Be a Jew, and Jacob the Baker. I loved both As a Driven Leaf, and the Dovekeepers, both powerful, meaningful books . Thanks.

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