Celebrating Diversity – Books by Black Jewish Writers

This month, in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to bring you a reading list featuring books by Black Jewish Writers. The Jewish community is a rich tapestry of many diverse voices and our literature is reflective of that. I’m looking forward to adding these books to my own reading list and learning more about the Jewish experience that is different from my own.

Join the conversation! Add your own recommendations in the comments.


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Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid

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Lucy, a teenage girl from the West Indies, comes to America to work as an au pair for a wealthy couple. She begins to notice cracks in their beautiful façade at the same time that the mysteries of own sexuality begin to unravel. Jamaica Kincaid has created a startling new heroine who is destined to win a place of honor in contemporary fiction.

Ariel Samson: Freelance Rabbi by MaNishtana

Ariel Samson is just your run of the mill anomaly: a 20-something black Orthodox Jewish rabbi looking for love, figuring out life, and floating between at least two worlds.

Luckily, it gets worse.

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The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

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A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.

From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.

As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she’s isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (as well as her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

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Small Island: A Novel by Andrea Levy

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Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer’s daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.

Told in these four voices, Small Island is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers—in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant’s life.

Peacesong DC: A Jewish Africana Academia Epic Tale of Washington City by Carolivia Herron

Shirah Shulamit Ojero has four loves, her African American culture, her Jewish heritage, academic study — especially the study of literary epics — and her city, Washington, DC. Peacesong DC displays the interconnection of these four loves as Shirah grows up in the Washington DC neighborhoods of Mayfair Mansions, Kenilworth, Anacostia, Takoma DC. and downtown. Throughout her life, Shirah connects with the buildings and images of the National Mall which she considers the epic center of the United States. After graduating from DC Public Schools (Neval Thomas, Woodson, and Coolidge), Shirah pursues academic degrees at Howard University, Eastern Baptist College, Villanova University, the Folger Library Institute, and the

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University of Pennsylvania. Although all of the stories told in Peacesong DC are based on actual events in the author’s life, the book is classified as fiction rather than non-fiction because the stories bend toward the arc of storytelling rather than that of rigid facts. If something in the story appears particularly improbable, it is likely to be the truth. For the full hilarious story of how Shirah (aka Asenath) becomes an educator at Harvard University (West Cambridge U) and a librarian in ancient Egypt, see the author’s longer work, Asenath and the Origin of Nappy Hair.

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Deacon King Kong by James McBride

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In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.

The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters—caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York—overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.

Bringing to these pages both his masterly storytelling skills and his abiding faith in humanity, James McBride has written a novel every bit as involving as The Good Lord Bird and as emotionally honest as The Color of Water. Told with insight and wit, Deacon King Kong demonstrates that love and faith live in all of us.

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