18 Books with a Jewish Voice 2021 Edition

Back by popular demand, and in time for Hanukkah, I’ve assembled a list of eighteen books, with a Jewish voice, from my 2021 reading list. With a wide variety of genres, you’ll find something for every reader on your gift list this year.

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Forgiving Stephen Redmond by AJ Sidransky

From the Back Cover:

In the brutal heat of an August “Dog-Day” afternoon, Detectives Tolya Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez climb the rickety stairs of a wood frame house to the third floor to find a sight so astounding it stops them cold. Inside a partially demolished wall sits something between a skeleton and a mummy in a double-breasted suit, Fedora still perched on his head. Who is this man? How long has he been here? How did he get here? The search for his identity opens a long-closed cold case which leads Kurchenko and Gonzalvez back to another murder they solved a few years earlier. The connections are just a little too close.
From the immigrant rooming houses of upper Manhattan in the 1950s and 60s to the terrifying realities of Trujillo’s iron-fisted Dominican Republic, from the ashes of the Holocaust to the children of its victims, Forgiving Stephen Rothman will grip you from page one. Sometimes, revenge is more important for the soul than forgiveness.

[ARC Review] Forgiving Stephen Redmond by A.J. Sidransky

By A.J. Sidransky It’s a hot August day in New York when Detectives Tolya Kurchenko and Pete Gonzalvez are called to a Manhattan demolition site to investigate a strange discovery. Inside a wall on the third floor of a building, the construction crew has discovered a murder victim, fully dressed in a suit and hat.…

Turning Homeward: Restoring Hope and Nature in the Urban Wild by Adrienne Ross Scanlan

From the Back Cover:

Turning Homeward: Restoring Hope and Nature in the Urban Wild is the journey of a newcomer to the Pacific Northwest who learns that home isn’t simply where you live, but where you create belonging.

Set in Seattle and Western Washington’s urban and suburban “altered” landscapes, Turning Homeward creates an accessible narrative of the complicated joys of rolling up one’s sleeves to help repair our beautiful, broken world. Adrienne Scanlan’s personal story blends into the natural history of Puget Sound and the tangled issues around urban renewal and river restoration. In the process, readers move with her into a meaningful, hope-filled engagement with place and another understanding of the idea of home.

Adrienne explores how seasons spent restoring the city’s salmon runs help her make peace with her father’s death and build a new marriage. Turning Homeward speaks to a simple truth spreading through our society: The nature we cherish lives alongside us, and by restoring it we heal both home and heart.

Meditations with the Hebrew Letters: A Guide for the Modern Seeker by Gilla Nissan

From the Back Cover:

For thousands of years, the 22 Hebrew letters have been understood by the sages to be secret Signs and Wonders. More than building blocks of a language, they are mystical tools of creation, spiritual DNA transmitting a universal vision. The Hebrew Letters offer profound, practical guidance, rooted in sacred wisdom and kabbalistic cosmology.

This exquisite boxed set, with 22 cards, reference guide, and full-color, hand-stitched book, is the first of its kind in the fields of Kabbalah and self-development. It is perfect for the intuitive, the seeker, the meditator.

The Crate: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

From the Back Cover:

After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust – in ghettos, on death marches, and in concentration camps – a young couple seeks refuge in Canada. They settle into a new life, certain that the terrors of their past are behind them. They build themselves a cozy little cottage on a lake in Muskoka, a cottage that becomes emblematic of their victory over the Nazis. The charming retreat is a safe haven, a refuge from haunted memories.

That is, until a single act of unspeakable violence defiles their sanctuary. Poking around the dark crawl space beneath their cottage, they discover a wooden crate, nailed tightly shut and almost hidden from view. Nothing could have prepared them for the horror of the crate’s contents – or how the peace and tranquility of their lives would be shattered.

Now, their daughter, Deborah Vadas Levison, an award-winning journalist, tells the extraordinary account of her parents’ ordeals, both in one of the darkest times in world history and their present-day lives. Written in searing, lyrical prose, THE CRATE: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice examines man’s seemingly limitless capacity for evil… but also, his capacity for good.

[Book Review] The Crate: A Story Of War, A Murder, And Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

By Deborah Vadas Levison A grisly discovery under her family’s Toronto cottage suddenly brings back author, Deborah Vadas Levison’s parents’, long set-aside memories of the horrors of the Shoah. As renovations are being completed on her family’s idyllic get-away spot, a crate containing human remains is found under the cottage. Vadas Levison’s memoir explores trauma…

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Forget Russia by L Bordetsky-Williams

From the Back Cover:

“Your problem is you have a Russian soul,” Anna’s mother tells her. In 1980, Anna is a naïve UConn senior studying abroad in Moscow at the height of the Cold War-and a second-generation Russian Jew raised on a calamitous family history of abandonment, Czarist-era pogroms, and Soviet-style terror. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking black marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life. With its intricate insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.

[Book Review] Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

By L. Bordetsky-Williams Anna is a second generation Russian-American Jew and a senior at UConn when she gets an opportunity to study in Moscow, in 1980. She finds herself navigating a Cold War culture she doesn’t fully understand. But an encounter with a young man at a Rosh Hashanah service leads to uncovering a lost…

The Interpreter by AJ Sidransky

From the Back Cover:

In the heat of wartime Manila, 23-year-old American GI Kurt Berlin is recruited by the OSS to return to Europe to aid in the interrogation of captured Nazis. A refugee from the Nazis himself, Berlin discovers the Nazi he’s interpreting is responsible for much of the torment and misery he endured during his escape. And that very same Nazi may hold the key to finding the girl he left behind. Will the gravitational pull of revenge dislodge his moral compass?
From the terror of pre-war Vienna to the chaos of occupied Brussels, through Kurt’s flight with his family through Nazi-Occupied France, to the destruction of post-war Europe, The Interpreter follows Kurt’s surreal escape and return. How much can a young mind absorb before it explodes?

[Book Review] The Interpreter by AJ Sidransky

By AJ Sidransky American GI Kurt Berlin finds himself being recruited by the OSS to serve as a translator in war-torn Europe, during the interrogations of captured Nazis. Through his work, Berlin discovers the Nazi responsible for his own persecution before he fled Europe as a refugee. He finds himself facing a moral dilemma as…

Letters from Planet Corona by Chaya Passow

From the Back Cover:

The Covid-19 epidemic exploded in Israel on the heels of the joyous Purim festival in mid-March 2020. Trying to make sense of the ensuing insanity, Chaya Passow, a resident of Jerusalem, soon began to share her thoughts and reflections with friends and family in the form of a letter from the new Planet Corona, formerly Planet Earth. What began as an attempt at personal catharsis grew to a collection of 70 letters describing seven tumultuous months in 2020 culminating in the Jewish High Holidays.Letters from Planet Corona is unique, the result of an intelligent, strong feminine voice which combines witty, satirical, and humorous narratives with thought-provoking, uplifting, and inspirational insights. The author has an engaging style which makes her often penetrating and incisive observations accessible to all as she describes her personal journey from initial bewilderment and occasional despair to a deeper understanding of what it means to truly put your faith in God in the midst of a pandemic that tested human endurance.Reading Letters from Planet Corona will open your mind and touch your heart.

[Book Review] Letters from Planet Corona by Chaya Passow

By Chaya Passow As Covid-19 spread throughout Israel, author Chaya Passow found herself living in a strange new world. In an effort to process this strange new planet we all seemed to have landed on, Passow wrote a series of letters over the course of months from Purim to the High Holidays. Passow offers very…

Private Good Luck by Sherwin Gluck

From the Back Cover:

It’s February 1940, and four siblings triumphantly overcome two years of bureaucratic hurdles and flee to America. The youngest brother begins to pursue his American dream, only to have it interrupted. Not yet a citizen, he’s inducted into the army and chooses to serve in the infantry to defend his newfound American freedom, champion the honor of his people, and save the family he left behind. Small serendipities repeatedly safeguard him from almost certain death. Join him on his transformative journey and be inspired by his courage, kindness, and optimism in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Documented by extensive primary sources, this memoir precedes an upcoming, remarkably comprehensive, special online collection of correspondence, documents, photos, and artifacts at the US Holocaust Museum (ca. 2021).

[Book Review] Private Good Luck by Sherwin Gluck

By Sherwin Gluck After two years of navigating red tape, four siblings found their way out of Hungary and into the United States in 1940. Shortly after arriving to freedom, the youngest brother finds himself in the army, fighting to defend his American dream. This is a heartfelt and emotional story of the Jewish experience…

Because It’s Israel: An Aliyah Odyssey by Arthur Miller

From the Back Cover:

When young law student Arthur Miller books a trip to Israel for himself and his new wife Ronnie in the aftermath of the Six Day War, he unknowingly begins an odyssey that will last almost four decades. After thirty-five years of annual visits, he finally fulfills his dream of making aliyah. Join Arthur and Ronnie on their delightful and inspirational journey to figuring out life as Israeli citizens.

Arthur’s keen observations and hysterical sense of humor, combined with his easy-going American attitude, are a recipe for a unique aliyahexperience. His passionate love for the country and its people provides the backdrop against which we see the good in Israel through Arthur’s eyes. From bureaucratic offices and clerks at banks and post offices to hospitals and medical emergencies and travels via cars and trains, the many facets of daily living shine through Arthur and Ronnie’s story.

[Book Review] Because It’s Israel: An Aliyah Odyssey by Arthur Miller

By Arthur Miller After thirty-five years of making annual trips to Eretz Israel, Arthur and his wife Ronnie, finally realize their life-long dream of making aliyah. Because It’s Israel is Miller’s first-hand account of their experience of adjusting to life in their new home. From purchasing real estate and a car to banking, to the…

At the End of the World, Turn Left by Zhanna Slor

From the Back Cover:

A riveting debut novel from an unforgettable new voice that is literary, suspenseful, and a compelling story about identity and how you define “home”.

Masha remembers her childhood in the former USSR, but found her life and heart in Israel. Anna was just an infant when her family fled, but yearns to find her roots. When Anna is contacted by a stranger from their homeland and then disappears, Masha is called home to Milwaukee to find her.

In 2008, college student Anna feels stuck in Milwaukee, with no real connections and parents who stifle her artistic talents. She is eager to have a life beyond the heartland. When she’s contacted online by a stranger from their homeland—a girl claiming to be her long lost sister—Anna suspects a ruse or an attempt at extortion. But her desperate need to connect with her homeland convinces her to pursue the connection. At the same time, a handsome grifter comes into her life, luring her with the prospect of a nomadic lifestyle.

Masha lives in Israel, where she went on Birthright and unexpectedly found home. When Anna disappears without a trace, Masha’s father calls her back to Milwaukee to help find Anna. In her former home, Masha immerses herself in her sister’s life—which forces her to recall the life she, too, had left behind, and to confront her own demons. What she finds in her search for Anna will change her life, and her family, forever.

[ARC Review] At the End of the World, Turn Left by Zhanna Slor

By Zhanna Slor Masha and Anastasia are sisters who immigrated to the United States from the former USSR as children, in the 80s. The two spent their adolescents in the gritty counter-culture neighborhood, Riverwest, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In her early twenties, Masha makes a journey of self-discovery, immigrating to Israel but returns to Milwaukee, at…

I Wish My Father by Lesléa Newman

From the Back Cover:

“My intention was to ‘peek’ at I Wish My Father, but I couldn’t put it down, and after the last poem, I started again from page one and read to the end. This collection is so moving and plain-spoken, that the careful attention to the ingredients of sound and prosody baked into each line might go unnoticed, which is what we, as poets, hope for. I got to know the author’s dad in all his humanity; he is now part of my family. A wonderful companion to I Carry My Mother; in both volumes, Newman captures the moods and personalities beautifully”.
—Richard Michelson, author of More Money Than God

I Wish My Father is a study of a father-daughter relationship, full of daily expressions of love, loyalty, and devotion that passes between the two. In this book-length verse sequence, a partner to Newman’s previous collection I Carry My Mother, the poet bears witness to her father’s life, post losing his wife/her mother, and brings forth their shared grief in finely wrought observations of domestic moments that resound with larger meaning. With Newman’s trademark clarity of language and her matter-of-fact tone mixed with tenderness, these poems offer moving reflections on facing the vicissitudes of aging, loss, and mortality.”
—Shara McCallum, author of No Ruined Stone

“This collection speaks eloquently to the dictum that if you write fully about one person, you write about all people in their humanity. Lesléa Newman deftly enumerates situations that in their beautifully observed wrinkles and folds give forth the feeling of an aged man’s life and his relationship with his daughter, who, in dealing with his crotchets and quibbles, to saying nothing of pure stubbornness, is ‘on the edge / of a nervous breakdown.’ Droll and sad, these poems possess an abundance of insight, a precious empathy that rises out of the depths of exasperation into the bemused heights of love.”
—Baron Wormser, author of Unidentified Sighing Objects

[Book Review] I Wish My Father by Lesléa Newman

By Lesléa Newman This poetry collection explores the father-daughter relationship based on the author’s relationship with her own father. The collection is progressive in time as her father ages and reaches end of life. Newman’s writing is emotional and raw as she wrestles with issues so many face as parents age. Coping with difficult issues…

Mannahatta: A Sequel by Sherry V Ostroff

From the Back Cover:

From award-winning author, Sherry V. Ostroff, comes the historical novel, Mannahatta, the sequel to Caledonia.

Abandoning the ship was risky. It meant Anna never returning to Scotland and reuniting with her daughter. Instead, Anna and her Highlander, Alain MacArthur, faced an uncertain future in colonial Manhattan, where they knew no one, except for an old adversary seeking revenge.

Anna’s story would have remained unknown if it were not for Hanna Duncan’s dogged pursuit of the truth about her ancient ancestor. But first, her journey will take Hanna and the man she loves through the Central American jungle, infiltrated by blood-thirsty gangs; the Scottish Highlands and a scheming family; and the glass and steel canyonlands of New York City.

Mannahatta continues the story of these two strong women living three-hundred years apart. They are bound by mysterious circumstances that slowly unravels an unexpected connection.

[Book Review] Mannahatta: A Sequel by Sherry V. Ostroff

By Sherry V. Ostroff A sequel to Caledonia, we rejoin Hanna Duncan three years after the original book, pursuing her doctorate in archeology. Her studies take her to Central America where she finds herself in danger at the hands of a gang. Meanwhile, her ancestor, Anna’s story continues in the new world. She encounters danger…

The Hotel on St. James Place: Growing up in Atlantic City between the Boardwalk and the Holocaust by Molly Golubcow

From the Back Cover:

By the early 1970s Atlantic City, New Jersey had seen better days. Its heyday was decades in the past, and the uncertain promise of casinos had not yet become a reality. Shabby, rundown and even seedy were often terms used to describe the once attractive seaside resort city.

Atlantic City was not without its charms, however. The ocean and the steady sea breeze is always hard to resist. The famous Boardwalk with its shops and the Steel Pier still drew visitors. It remained a destination for mostly bargain vacationers. Once in town, travelers mixed with the drug dealers, runaways, pimps, con artists and others to create a strange tapestry.
It was vastly different than the small shtetl in Poland where Holocaust survivors Harry and Sonia Golubcow once lived. That world had been totally destroyed. When they became the proprietors of the Seacrest Hotel on St. James Place, a small walk up hotel situated less than a block from the Boardwalk, they brought their memories with them and maintained their old world ways.

Harry would often say, “Hitler was a strange matchmaker” describing his new life. Indeed, the hotel’s colorful clientele became a sort of family, with the couple demonstrating their incredible capacity to interact with strange and quirky quests with empathy and understanding– adapting to lifestyles so foreign and opposite to their strict Jewish upbringing and alien compared to the horrors that they experienced. Along the way, they became friends, substitute parents, teachers, and in some cases, saviors to those who came to the Seacrest.

Observing all of this is Harry and Sonia’s young teenage daughter, Molly. The comings and goings of the Seacrest’s unforgettable characters unfold before her like a bizarre soap opera. Each person that passes by Harry’s front desk begins a new tale about a Seacrest Hotel guest who made an impression on Molly. Some are sad and others dangerous, but they all have a story to tell. And they lead Molly—and us– into a darker, misfit world of Atlantic City in those days.
Let’s go to St. James Place and pay a visit to the Seacrest Hotel, as Molly Golubcow vividly remembers it. It will be an unforgettable journey.

Among the Reeds: The true story of how a family survived the Holocaust by Tammy Bottner

From the Back Cover:

A young Jewish mother. A Nazi occupation bent on genocide. A heart-breaking decision that will tear a young family apart.

Belgium, 1940. Melly Bottner is just eighteen with a three-week old newborn son when the Nazi occupation of Belgium begins. She and her young husband Genek live in fear as it becomes obvious that all Jews will soon be taken. Watching friends and neighbors disappear as the Germans carry out their shocking purge, the young family confronts an awful truth: if they are to survive, they must rip their own family into pieces.

In this biography from Melly’s point of view, author and granddaughter Tammy Bottner delivers a true and moving family memoir. This meticulously written and researched account brings to life the horrific decisions Bottner’s grandparents had to make simply to survive. Through their monumental choices, Tammy Bottner’s grandparents ensured the survival of their family and made their post-war reunion possible.

Among the Reeds is a deeply personal family memoir that is part-biography, part psychological observation of the extraordinary wartime lives of a persecuted people. If you like true stories of courage, heart-stopping near misses, and tear-jerking choices, then you’ll love Tammy Bottner’s compelling account.

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All the Horrors of War: A Jewish Girl, a British Doctor, and the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen by Bernice Lerner

From the Back Cover:

On April 15, 1945, Brigadier H. L. Glyn Hughes entered Bergen-Belsen for the first time. Waiting for him were 10,000 unburied, putrefying corpses and 60,000 living prisoners, starving and sick. One month earlier, 15-year-old Rachel Genuth arrived at Bergen-Belsen; deported with her family from Sighet, Transylvania, in May of 1944, Rachel had by then already endured Auschwitz, the Christianstadt labor camp, and a forced march through the Sudetenland. In All the Horrors of War, Bernice Lerner follows both Hughes and Genuth as they move across Europe toward Bergen-Belsen in the final, brutal year of World War II.  

Drawing on a wealth of sources, including Hughes’s papers, war diaries, oral histories, and interviews, this gripping volume combines scholarly research with narrative storytelling in describing the suffering of Nazi victims, the overwhelming presence of death at Bergen-Belsen, and characters who exemplify the human capacity for fortitude. Lerner, Rachel’s daughter, has special insight into the torment her mother suffered. The first book to pair the story of a Holocaust victim with that of a liberator, All the Horrors of War compels listeners to consider the full, complex humanity of both.

[Book Review] All The Horrors of War by Bernice Lerner

By Bernice Lerner On April 15, 1945, British doctor, Brigadier H. L. Glyn Hughes arrived at Bergen-Belsen. While familiar with the horrors of war, nothing could prepare Brigadier Hughes for what he would see there. Among the sixty thousand living inmates, in the camp, was Rachel Genuth, a fifteen-year-old Jewess who arrived at the camp,…

My Jew-ish Story: NYU-Hunter Edition by NYU-Hunter Students

From the Back Cover:

Judaism permeates lives in various ways, and yet, it connects us all the same. This is a collection of reflections on life, upon which our Jew-ish experiences have had some kind of impact, big or small, direct or tangential. Through gathering and sharing our stories, we hope to give you a glimpse into Jewish life through the eyes of college students living, learning, and being Jewish in 2021. A collection of short stories and poems by NYU and Hunter College students sharing their Jewish experience.

[Book Review] My Jew-ish Story: NYU-Hunter Edition

By NYU-Hunter Students; Penina Shtauber (Editor), Uriel Dison (Editor), Mitchell LaDue (Editor) The Jewish experience is unique to every individual but it also unites us as one tribe. In this anthology, My Jew-ish Story, a group of NYU and Hunter College students share insight into their Jewish experience as they live their own Jewish life. What a perfect way to…

Celestial Persuasion by Mirta Ines Trupp

From the Back Cover:

Abigail Isaacs fears ever again falling under the power of love and dedicates her life to studying the heavens. However, upon her father’s demise she finds herself in reduced circumstances and must write to her brother, who has long been away at sea. When instead Captain Wentworth of the HMS Laconia sends a tragic reply, Abigail is asked to set aside her own ambitions and fulfill her brother’s dreams in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata.

In his relentless pursuit for justice, Lieutenant Raphael Gabay lends his sword to the Spanish American cause. But as he prepares to set sail with the others, he is entrusted with the care of a young woman. She is quite unlike anyone he has ever known, and Raphael begins to wonder whether the brilliant astronomer will see beyond his frivolous façade and recognize his true nature.

Their destinies have been plotted beyond the celestial veil; their charts foretell of adventure. Can these two troubled souls be persuaded to heed the stars and find love—and their purpose—in this fledgling nation?

[Book Review] Celestial Persuasion by Mirta Ines Trupp

By Mirta Ines Trupp Abigail Issacs is a gifted astronomer. But the loss of her father places her in a perilious situation that requries help from her brother, who has been away at sea. When she receives a tragic reply, Abigail finds herself in the charge of Lieutenant Raphael Gabay and pursuing a different ambition…

A Contrary Journey with Velvel Zbarzher, Bard by Jill Culiner

From the Back Cover:

The Old Country, how did it smell? Sound? Was village life as cosy as popular myth would have us believe? Was there really a strong sense of community? Perhaps it was another place altogether.

In 19thc Eastern Europe, Jewish life was ruled by Hasidic rebbes or the traditional Misnagedim, and religious law dictated every aspect of daily life. Secular books were forbidden; independent thinkers were threatened with moral rebuke, magical retribution and expulsion. But the Maskilim, proponents of the Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment, were determined to create a modern Jew, to found schools where children could learn science, geography, languages and history.

Velvel Zbarzher, rebel and glittering star of fusty inns, spent his life singing his poems to loyal audiences of poor workers and craftsmen, and his attacks condemning the religious stronghold resulted in banishment and itinerancy. By the time Velvel died in Constantinople in 1883, the Haskalah had triumphed and the modern Jew had been created. But modernisation and assimilation hadn’t brought an end to anti-Semitism.

Armed with a useless nineteenth-century map, a lumpy second-hand coat, and an unhealthy dose of curiosity Jill Culiner trudged through the snow in former Galicia, the Russian Pale, and Romania searching for Velvel. But she was also on the lookout for a vanished way of life in Austria, Turkey and Canada.

This book, chronicling a forgotten part of Jewish history, follows the life of one extraordinary Jewish bard, and it is told with wry humour by award-winning Canadian writer Jill Culiner.

[Book Review] A Contrary Journey with Velvel Zbarzher, Bard by Jill Culiner

By Jill Culiner In her latest work, Jill Culiner takes her reader on a journey through 19th century eastern Europe as she searches for a rebel and contrarian, Velvel Zbarzher. Zbarzher spoke in favor of Jewish Enlightenment at a time when communities were ruled by the Hasidic rebbes and Jewish law controlled all aspects of…

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Gift Guide: Hanukkah Gifts for the Reader, 2021 Edition

It’ll be time to light the Hanukkah lights before we know it. Which means it’s time to start planning for eight nights of presents! To help you find the best gifts to give the book lover in your life, I’ve compiled a gift guide of 18 great ideas to get you started on your Hanukkah…

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