Hanukkah gift-giving can run the gamut from “I know just what they want” to “How did I get Uncle David’s name again?” But you can find a thoughtful Hanukkah gift for almost anyone in the following list of books. So let someone else buy the socks and pajamas this year, you’ve got the books!
For the little reader
“Eight Nights of Lights: A Celebration of Hanukkah,” by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Hilli Kushnir (Harper, 2023)
This adorable book contains nine little books, shaped like Hanukkah candles. Over the course of eight nights, these little books tell the story of Lena and her family as they celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah with friends, extended family, their synagogue and neighborhood. Follow along to learn the story of Hanukkah, explore different traditions and meet Pickles, Lena’s cat!
For the teen or teen at heart
“How to Excavate a Heart,” by Jake Maia Arlow (Harper Teen, 2022)
This charming love story with a Jewish twist takes place over the course of a month in D.C. as Shani, a college freshman fresh from a stinging breakup, decides to spend the winter break working in a lab studying dead fish. An aspiring paleoichthyologist, Shani is hoping for a break from the complications of romance, but when her roommate asks her to take over a dog-walking gig for a few days, Shani runs into May.
May has a deep grudge against Shani, but the ice between the two of them begins to thaw over walks with Raphael, the adorable Corgi, trips to museums, and over coffee.
But when May unexpectedly disappears and Shani can’t get in touch with her, she wonders if she’s ready to do this all over again and is forced to reckon with the way her last relationship ended. Shani has to figure out how to be in a relationship without losing herself and her dreams.
Though sweet and heartfelt, this lesbian romance touches on issues of consent, gaslighting and relationship abuse. While the characters deal with difficult things, they do end up happy for now.
For the book club
“Eight Bright Lights,” by Sara Gibbs (Headline Publishing Group, 2023)
This fun and thoughtful novel follows three Jewish women in the lead-up to a Christmas-day wedding. Set largely in England, it follows Hannah, a young woman fresh out of college with too much free time and a self-destructive streak; Ella, an autistic event planner; and Rachel, the bride-to-be.
With only a few weeks to go before the wedding, Ella is forced to deal with the sabotage of her former boss, Rachel is chasing down a family story to secure a position with a magazine, and Hannah must fly off to Israel for the funeral of the father she hasn’t seen or heard from since she was 14.
Each of these three women deals with a personal crisis that shakes her belief in who she is and, in the end, gives her the opportunity to be someone she wants to become.
The three women come together for the Christmas wedding after mishaps, happenstance, love and loss, and remind us that we can never know how something will turn out, but we have to do our best in each moment, regardless.
For the chef or home cook
“The Jewish Cookbook,” by Leah Koenig (Phaidon Press, 2019)
If you need a gift for a host or have a family member who loves to cook, this beautiful book contains recipes from the Jewish Diaspora, from Eastern Europe to India, Iraq to Israel. Not only are the recipes amazing, but so are the photographs, Jewish history and diversity in the book. This also has one of the best butter cookie recipes I have ever tried!
For the fantasy reader
“Thistlefoot,” by GennaRose Nethercott (Anchor Books, 2022)
As “Thistlefoot” starts, Isaac and Bellatine Yaga are estranged siblings, a brother and sister who grew up on the road with their parents’ traveling puppet show. Their lives are simultaneously upended when they receive a call and later a package about a house left to them by an ancestor. When they go to claim the house in a giant warehouse, they find it has chicken feet and responds only to Yiddish.
An adventure story that spans centuries and myth, “Thistlefoot” is a great choice for any fantasy or folklore reader in your life.
For the history or true-crime reader
“Bruno Schulz: An Artist, a Murder, and the Hijacking of History,” by Benjamin Balint (W.W. Norton & Company, 2023)
A biography of the Polish Jewish writer and artist, and an exploration of his legacy and what it means, this book investigates not only a historical moment, but also how that moment reverberates throughout time, place and memory.
For the liberal history reader
“The Cost of Free Land: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance,” by Rebecca Clarren (Viking, 2023)
A combination of personal history and reportage, this book looks at the history of land in the United States and how it intersects with the writer’s family as they fled antisemitism in Russia. An investigation of the complex ways that oppression intersects and what can be done about our inherited legacies of the persecuted and the perpetrator.
For anyone looking to connect with Judaism in a new way
“Here All Along: A Reintroduction to Judaism,” by Sarah Hurwitz (Spiegel & Grau, 2019)
Written by Michelle Obama’s speechwriter, this book takes readers through various aspects of Jewish practice, from law and history to Jewish ethics and spiritual practice. Hurwitz’s rigorous study of Jewish religious life and practices is accessible and readable even for those who barley remember Hebrew school – or who remember it with a shudder.
SARAH GREENLEAF (email@example.com) is the digital marketing specialist for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and writes for Jewish Rhode Island.