(December 11, 2019 / JNS) Hanukkah is one of the most inspiring holidays in the Jewish calendar. For eight nights, we celebrate the Maccabees—proud warriors against anti-Semitism, who fought to defend our Jewish heritage and Jewish homeland from the Greek Seleucid invaders. The Jewish people triumphed in the face of Jew-hatred, restoring sovereignty to the Jewish people in Judea.
This story of resilience, courage and bravery has a beautiful Zionist message that resonates across the generations. It inspires teens involved with the Zionist-based group Club Z to take a stand for Israel and against anti-Semitism.
As Jews throughout the world get ready to eat oil-based foods like latkes and jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot), spin dreidels and light candles on the menorah while recounting the story of the miracle of Hanukkah, here are eight recommended books—one for each night of the holiday.
- Natan Sharansky (with Shira Wolosky Weiss): Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy
Human-rights activist Natan Sharansky spent nine years in Soviet prisons as a refusenik, fighting for the right of Jews in the former Soviet Union to immigrate to Israel and practice Judaism freely. After his release from prison in 1986 due to years of international pressure—mainly from the United States and Israel—Sharansky was able to leave Russia and make the Jewish state his home, where he continued to contribute to world Jewry. Heroes like Sharansky inspired many Jews growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, setting them on the path to empower Jewish teens to be proud of their identity and join the fight against anti-Semitism. In Defending Identity, Sharansky explains why strong identities are necessary for strong democracies. He explains that being proud of who you are—your history, tradition, and community—gives you purpose to fight for what is right. In the News: Sharansky was just named the 2020 recipient of Israel’s Genesis Prize.
- Ben-Dror Yemini: Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict
“Industry of Lies” is an eye-opener for people who are not engaged in Zionist activism today, as well as a strong read for those who are engaged in supporting our Jewish homeland but want to do more. An acclaimed journalist, Yemini brings together the story behind the headlines on Israel: how anti-Semitism in media and among academics distorts coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to inflame hate against Jews and demonize the State of Israel. He offers an in-depth analysis of common, inaccurate and malicious accusations leveled against Israel, and refutes them one by one.
- Howard Fast: My Glorious Brothers
Published during the 1948 War of Independence, My Glorious Brothers tells the story of the Maccabees revolt for independence against the Greek Seleucid Empire. This compelling book shows just how eternal the story of independence, self-determination and religious freedom are to the Jewish people.
- Israel Eldad: The Jewish Revolution: Jewish Statehood
Eldad’s Zionist philosophy and work as a member of the underground Jewish group Lehi helped shape the modern State of Israel. The text clearly lays out why Zionism is central to Jewish safety, and why all Jews must support a strong and independent Jewish state. This bold and passionate book argues that Jews must embrace our indigenous right to the Land of Israel, assert that right, and defend our ancient homeland and modern-day home. As Israel’s legitimacy is attacked by historically illiterate, anti-Semitic media—as well as those on the far-right and far-left—Revolution includes some of the core philosophy as to why Jews must support Israel.
- Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin: Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z
Jews are demonized throughout the West in the name of anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel. This comprehensive book refutes the mainstream media’s lies and distortions about Israel with facts, logic and a clear understanding of history. Written by Zionist lay leaders, it is accessible to all those who want to learn how to effectively combat the media’s frequent narrative against Israel. Sadly, Bender passed away in September at the age of 56 after a long battle with illness.
- Dan Illouz: The 7 Principles of Zionism: A Values-Based Approach to Israel Advocacy
Why should Israel exist? There are so many reasons that the answer can be hard to put into words. The author, a former Israeli adviser, lawyer and Zionist activist, artfully presents seven proactive reasons to support Israel: historical justice and legal justice, peace, truth, liberty, freedom, democracy and hope. Rather than refuting lies from detractors, these principles explain why supporting Israel helps us live out human values.
- Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin: The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism
Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin provide a concise and classic guide for anyone who wants to know more about Jewish religion, culture and issues. It is especially useful for both educated and skeptical Jews who are looking for a deeper understanding of our heritage, and for non-Jews who want a highly readable and well-researched overview of some of the most frequently asked questions about Judaism.
- Daniel Gordis: Menachem Begin:The Battle for Israel’s Soul
Menachem Begin’s incredible story continues to inspire Israelis, Jews and Zionists around the world. The author comprehensively tells the story of the young Polish boy who admired Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky, became a leader in the Betar movement, was imprisoned by the Soviets, joined the Free Polish Army and arrived in British Mandatory Palestine, where he joined the Irgun to fight for Jewish freedom. And that’s all before the War of Independence and declaration of Israel in 1948. Begin’s influence thereafter as a longtime and highly influential leader—perhaps especially well-known for establishing peace with Egypt—is key to understanding Israel today.
Masha Merkulova is the founder and executive director of Club Z.
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