5 Memoirs by Jewish Women to Check Out For Hanukkah That Explore Identity
Like Diwali and other religious/cultural holidays between November and December, Hanukkah is called The Festival of Lights and often serves as a time spent with friends and family. For some Jews, the eight-day celebration is also a time to reflect on identity and perseverance.
In observance of the final days of Hanukkah (this year, it ends on December 6), here are five recent memoirs, essays, and other works published by Jewish women that explore the idea of identity.
Golem Girl: A Memoir by Riva Lehrer
Born in 1958 with Spina Bifida, Riva grew up under the impression that she needed to be “fixed” and, until then, would never complete her “duties” to work, get married, and be independent of her parents. However, as an adult, Riva finds fellow disabled artists that offer her an alternative to what life could be like.
With the confidence built from this community, Riva asks if she can create their portraits as a collaborative way to process herself, manifestations of difference, and the world around them.
The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl by Marra B. Gad
Growing up both biracial (white and Black in this case) and adopted by a white Jewish family, Marra’s childhood (’70s-’80s) was complicated. As she grew older, Marra began to cut out members of her large, extended family that refused to accept her (or people like her), including her favorite great-aunt, Nettle. After 15 years of estrangement later, Marra discovers that Nettle has Alzheimer’s and that Marra is the only person left in the family in a place to care for Nettle.
As the disease worsens, Marra finds that Nettle’s bigotry fades, making their relationship flourish in a way it could never before. Marra’s reflections include themes such as inheritance and identity throughout the memoir.
Spilt Milk by Courtney Zoffness
Like the previous entry, Zoffness’ story explores what we inherit from past generations and what we pass on. In this series of essays, she asks this in terms of biology, culture, spirituality, trauma, and more. Looking back, Zoffness reflects on her past experiences and growing up, but as she looks to the future, she thinks about her role as a mother to a young boy.
If you want to check out some of her (related) writings, Split Milk bloomed from an essay published in The Paris Review.
What We Will Become: A Mother, a Son, and a Journey of Transformation by Mimi Lemay
Hailed as a must-read by many Trans activists, What We Will Become is a reflective memoir by Mimi on how raising her transgender son (now a preteen) felt familiar to when she left her ultra-Orthodox Jewish family. This is not about personal feelings, but rather the unlearning strict gender expectations/roles. Mimi uses the strength from what it took to separate from her ultra-Orthodox family to help her be a better mother for her children and current family.
This wasn’t included as its own entry here because the book is from 2012, but Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey between Genders by Joy Ladin is from a literature professor transitioning later in life than what is often represented in media.
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany D. Haddish
I’d be remiss in sharing a list of memoirs and autobiographies about identity without including one light-hearted book to show there is no one way to talk about this broad subject.
This very adult and intimate book features a series of essays penned by producer, actress Tiffany Haddish reflecting on how her childhood and identity influence her comedy.
(Image: Gallery Books, Mariner Books, One World, and Chenspec via Pixabay.)
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