15 Canadian books to read for Jewish Heritage Month

May is Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. In recognition of this month, here's a reading list of poetry, fiction and nonfiction by Canadians of Jewish descent.

May is Canadian Jewish Heritage Month. In recognition of this month, here's a reading list of poetry, fiction and nonfiction by Canadians of Jewish descent.

Survivors by Rebecca Clifford

A woman with shoulder-length brown hair and glasses, the photo has a sepia toned filter. A book cover featuring several photos and color-blocked elements.
Rebecca Clifford is shortlisted for Survivors. (Yale University Press)

Survivors is a written account drawn from archives and interviews. Clifford documents the lives of one hundred Jewish children through their adulthood and into old age. The book explores the long-term impact of the Holocaust on the survivors — often branded "the lucky ones" — and how they had to struggle to survive at all. 

Rebecca Clifford is a Canadian historian and professor of history, Her work is focused on contemporary European history, oral history, memory and Holocaust historiography. Her book Survivors was shortlisted for the 2021 Wolfson History Prize and was a finalist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize.

I Am My Beloveds by Jonathan Papernick

I Am My Beloveds is a novel by Jonathan Papernick. ((, The Story Plant))

I Am My Beloveds is a novel that revolves around a modern couple, Ben and Shira, who attempt to have an open marriage. It examines the ranges of feelings and emotions involved when previously agreed-upon parameters of a relationship shift and change. 

Jonathan Papernick is a Toronto author of two short story collections, The Ascent of Eli Israel and There Is No Other, and three novels, including I Am My Beloveds. He serves as senior writer-in-residence in the Writing, Literature and Publishing department at Emerson College in Boston, where he has taught since 2007.

Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

Our Darkest Night is a novel by Jennifer Robson. (Natalie Brown/Tangerine Photo, HarperCollins Canada)

In Our Darkest NightNazi Germany has occupied most of Nina Mazin's homeland in Italy. Her only hope to survive the Holocaust as an Italian Jew is to leave her family behind in Venice and pose as the wife of Christian farmer Niccolò Gerardi. As Nina and Niccolò become closer, they both fear every day that they will be torn apart. 

Jennifer Robson is a Toronto-based historical fiction writer. Her other books include Goodnight From London, Moonlight Over Paris, After the War is Over, Somewhere in France, Fall of Poppies and The Gown.

All the Shining People by Kathy Friedman

Book author composite.
All the Shining People is a book by Kathy Friedman. (House of Anansi)

All the Shining People is a collection of 12 stories that reflects on themes of  migration, diaspora and belonging within Toronto's Jewish South African community. The debut book examines the lived experiences of immigrants and what it means to be deemed an outsider.

Kathy Friedman is a Canadian writer and instructor who emigrated with her family from South Africa to Toronto when she was five. Her work has been published in many literary magazines, including The New Quarterly, PRISM International, Geist and Room. She was a finalist for the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writer in 2012.

Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted by Gary Barwin

Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted is a novel by Gary Barwin. (Random House Canada, George Qua-Enoo)

In Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted, a poor, nerdy Jewish man named Motl's life is completely upended due to the Second World War. Friends and neighbours are being killed, and Motl dreams of having enough strength and bravery to stop the Nazis. Motl believes a Jew's greatest revenge against Hitler would be to procreate — which isn't easy since Motl lost that ability during the First World War. So Motl ends up on a quest, one stranger than he ever dreamed.

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, visual and multidisciplinary artist and the author of several books of poetry, fiction and books for children. His first novel, 2016's Yiddish for Pirates, won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour as well as a Canadian Jewish Literary Award. It was also a finalist for both the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He lives in Hamilton, Ont.

The Sleep of Apples by Ami Sands Brodoff

The Sleep of Apples is a novel by Ami Sands Brodoff. (Inanna Publications)

Presented as a novel-in-stories and set in a gentrifying Montreal neighbourhood, The Sleep of Apples is told in the voices of nine closely-linked narrators who confront madness, illness, loss and gender identity. These stories show how we all live imperfect lives, and that we love what we have and mourn what we've lost. 

Ami Sands Brodoff is the author of three novels and two volumes of stories. Her work includes In Many WatersBloodknots and The White Space Between, which won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for Fiction. She lives in Montreal.

Broken Dawn Blessings by Adam Sol

Broken Dawn Blessings is a poetry collection by Adam Sol. (Mark Raynes Robert, ECW Press)

Adam Sol's newest collection, Broken Dawn Blessings, is made up of poems that are loosely linked to the traditional Jewish morning prayers, the Birkhot haShachar (dawn blessings). The book strives to find moments of empathy and awe in the midst of personal and public pain, shame and worry.

Sol is a Canadian American poet. He is the author of four books of poetry, including How a Poem Moves and Crowd of Sounds, which won the 2004 Trillium Award for Poetry. He lives in Toronto and teaches at the University of Toronto.

Handwringers by Sarah Mintz

A book cover featuring simple pencil illustrations of human figures. The book's author, a woman looking off into the distance with long straight hair.
Handwringers is a book by Sarah Mintz (Radiant Press)

Handwringers is a collection of short fiction with themes of Jewish identity, culture and religion. The short and flash-fiction stories in Handwringers lean on a humorous take on the "schlemiel" — the figure in Jewish folklore described as "one who handles a situation in the worst possible manner or is dogged by an ill luck that is more or less due to his own ineptness."

Sarah Mintz is a Canadian writer, poet and author based in Victoria. Her work has been featured in Agnes and True, the University of Regina's [space] journal, the Book*hug Anthology and Write Across Canada. 

Kiss the Red Stairs by Marsha Lederman

A book cover featuring a photo of a woman's face overlain by a torn paper. The author's photo, a smiling woman with straight blonde hair.
Kiss the Red Stairs is a book by Marsha Lederman. (McClelland & Stewart, Ben Nelms)

Kiss the Red Stairs is a memoir of survival, intergenerational trauma and discovery. Marsha Lederman delves into her parents' Holocaust stories in the wake of her own divorce, investigating how trauma moves through generations and how history has shaped her own life. 

Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for the Globe and Mail. She previously worked for CBC Radio. Born in Toronto, Lederman now lives in Vancouver. 

You Are Not What We Expected by Sidura Ludwig

A smiling woman with a blue shirt and shoulder-length brown hair. A pink and blue book cover featuring a silhouette of a city street.
You Are Not What We Expected is a short story collection by Sidura Ludwig. (Astoria/House of Anansi)

You Are Not What We Expected is a linked short story collection that covers a Jewish family and their community in Thornhill, Ont., over 15 years. When Isaac moves back to Thornhill from Los Angeles, he becomes entangled in more family and neighbourhood drama than he could have ever imagined, but also develops relationships that change everything.

Sidura Ludwig is a fiction writer from Toronto. She is also the author of the novel Holding My Breath.

The Power of Teamwork by Dr. Brian Goldman

The Power of Teamwork is a book by Dr. Brian Goldman. (HarperCollins, CBC)

The Power of Teamwork is a nonfiction book that shows how a team approach to medicine can improve more than our healthcare systems. This new model can lead to better customer service, solidify the provision of social services to troubled youth, make professional sports teams perform better and even help women break the glass ceiling. 

Dr. Brian Goldman is an ER doctor and a bestselling author. He is the host of CBC Radio's White Coat, Black Art and the CBC podcast The Dose, which is about the latest in health news. Goldman lives in Toronto.

Rue des Rosiers by Rhea Tregebov

Rhea Tregebov is a Canadian author and poet. (Coteau Books)

Rue des Rosiers is a novel based in part on a 1982 terrorist attack on a Jewish delicatessen in Paris. It centres on Sarah, a young Canadian woman swept up in the traumatic events. The incident forces her to reflect on issues of gender, identity and violence.

Rhea Tregebov was born in Saskatoon, raised in Winnipeg and is a Vancouver-based poet, novelist and children's writer. Tregebov was living in Paris at the time of the real-life events that are fictionalized in her novel Rue des Rosiers.

Who by Fire by Matti Friedman

Who by Fire is a book by Matti Friedman. (Sebastian Sheiner HR, Signal)

Who by Fire recounts the time Leonard Cohen spent in Israel in October 1973 during the chaos and bloodshed of the Yom Kippur War. With access to material written by Cohen himself, along with dozens of interviews and rare photographs, Matti Friedman paints a portrait of an artist and the young people who heard him sing in the midst of combat. 

Matti Friedman is a Canadian Israeli journalist and writer. His other books include Spies of No Country, which won the history category for the 2020 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature, and Pumpkinflowers, which won the history category for the 2017 Vine Awards.

Dead Mom Walking by Rachel Matlow

Dead Mom Walking is a book by Rachel Matlow. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

Rachel Matlow's mom Elaine was a creative free spirit, personality traits Rachel celebrated. That is, until Elaine is diagnosed with cancer and decides to treat her illness with natural remedies, leaving Rachel to face the fact that what made her mom so special is what's going to kill her. Dead Mom Walking is the story of Rachel, Elaine and Elaine's cancer — based on Rachel's memories, Elaine's journals and the hours of tape they recorded together as they prepared to say goodbye.

Matlow was a producer at CBC Radio and worked on several programs including q, Spark and The Sunday EditionDead Mom Walking is their first book and is inspired by Matlow's documentary Dead Mom Talkingwhich aired on The Sunday Edition.

The Wagers by Sean Michaels

The Wagers is a novel by Sean Michaels. (Julie Artacho, Random House Canada)

The WagersSean Michaels's second novel, follows a Montreal grocer named Theo Potiris who works at his family's shabby supermarket by day and bikes to open mic nights at night, never telling the same joke twice. He's been waiting 15 years for his big break, but with his girlfriend overseas with a wealthy benefactor, Theo decides to trade in his dream for the promise of something more. The gamble takes Theo to a fantastic alternate reality of Montreal filled with peacocks, luck thieves and sports-mad mathematicians.

Michaels's first novel, Us Conductors, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2014. Michaels is also a music critic who founded the popular blog Said the Gramophone. 

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