Joshua Max Feld­man is a writer of fic­tion and plays. His first nov­el, The Book of Jon­ah, will be pub­lished on Feb­ru­ary 4th by Hen­ry Holt and Co. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I once heard Sarah Sil­ver­man tell a joke about the pride Jews inevitably take in the accom­plish­ments of oth­er Jews. To para­phrase, she said there are even Jews out there who will state, with nod­ding sat­is­fac­tion, You know the Son of Sam killer? A Jew!”

It does seem that for us Jews, every accom­plish­ment casts a glow of achieve­ment on the com­mu­ni­ty as a whole. Albert Ein­stein did­n’t rev­o­lu­tion­ize our under­stand­ing of the mechan­ics of the uni­verse—we did! Maybe it’s because there sim­ply aren’t many Jews out there — just under 14 mil­lion glob­al­ly, as com­pared to, say, 1.2 bil­lion Catholics — and every tri­umph strikes us as a feat of chutz­pah over demo­graph­ic grav­i­ty. Or maybe it’s because Jew­ish his­to­ry is pocked with so many attempts to ter­mi­nate Jew­ish his­to­ry, every Nobel Prize or even Gold­en Globe stands as an affir­ma­tion that not only are we still here, but, hey look!, we’re thriv­ing. I can’t ful­ly explain the phe­nom­e­non, but I cer­tain­ly share in it. And I believe it’s one of those par­tic­u­lar­ly Jew­ish traits that cuts across all fla­vors of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. When a Jew­ish child wins a spelling bee, it’s like every Jew from Boca to Crown Heights to Bei­jing wants to both give the kid a hug and brag about what great spellers the Jews are. 

I touched on this col­lec­tive pride in indi­vid­ual achieve­ment in my nov­el, The Book of Jon­ah, in describ­ing the pro­tag­o­nist’s out­look on his own Judaism. The Jon­ah of my book, an ambi­tious young lawyer who is sud­den­ly beset by inex­plic­a­ble visions, nev­er goes to syn­a­gogue and has only the vaguest ideas about God. Not atyp­i­cal­ly, though, he still thinks of him­self as ful­ly Jew­ish: He liked the com­mu­ni­ty of Judaism: the instant bond he felt toward any ‑berg, ‑man, or ‑stein he encoun­tered — the con­nec­tion he could claim to the famil­iar litany of dis­tin­guished Jews*.”

The famil­iar litany of dis­tin­guished Jews is what I want to try to cat­a­logue in this post: the go-to list of folks that Jews most often name when they’re blow­ing the sho­far of Jew­ish accom­plish­ment. These names get tossed around so often in syn­a­gogue and at BBYO region­al events, there real­ly ought to be a Passover song for them — maybe to the tune of Chad Gadya. I can’t offer that, but I can at least com­pile their names. Think of this as one’s man’s effort to chis­el out the Jew­ish Mount Rushmore. 

(One caveat: I chose to lim­it myself to Jews who made their mark in the 20th cen­tu­ry or lat­er. I did this, first, because the names I most often hear fall into this cat­e­go­ry, but more so that so that I would­n’t get angry Tweets from rab­bis for includ­ing the Ram­bam but not the Ran or something.)

Albert Ein­stein: The undis­put­ed cham­pi­on of the world of Jew­ish pride. I mean, he’s pop­u­lar­ly regard­ed as the smartest man who ever lived: That’s going to win you some acclaim in the tribe. 

Sig­mund Freud: The father of psy­cho­analy­sis. You real­ly can’t over­state the impact Freud has had on the way we think — and if you dis­agree, I think you have dad­dy issues, and ought to be in therapy. 

Gol­da Meir: Before there was Hillary, before there was Mar­garet, there was Gol­da, one of the first demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed female heads of state, and fur­ther proof that yes, your grand­moth­er could if giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty win a war. 

Sandy Koufax: In the galaxy of Jew­ish ath­letes, Sandy Koufax is the sun and sev­en of the plan­ets. Bonus points for that time he did­n’t pitch on Yom Kip­pur.

Bob Dylan: Prob­a­bly the most accom­plished musi­cian of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, Robert Zim­mer­man also owned his Jew­fro like no one before or since. 

Philip Roth: On the short list of great­est Amer­i­can writ­ers of the last cen­tu­ry and the source of innu­mer­able awk­ward book club conversations. 

Stephen Sond­heim: Okay, okay, I know this is an idio­syn­crat­ic choice, but if you care about Broad­way, you — right, mov­ing on. 

The Coen Broth­ers: Even the movies you for­get when you’re list­ing all their movies (Bar­ton Fink, Rais­ing Ari­zona, A Seri­ous Man) are clas­sics. Wal­ter Sobchak gives them the edge on this list over Woody Allen. Shomer Shab­bos!

So, that’s my list. Who did I leave off?

*I made a slight edit to this sen­tence to avoid redun­dan­cy, but hey, it’s my sen­tence, right?

Joshua Max Feld­man was born and raised in Amherst, Mass­a­chu­setts, he grad­u­at­ed from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, and has lived in Eng­land, Switzer­land, and New York City. The Book of Jon­ah is his first nov­el. Read more about him here.

Joshua Max Feld­man is a writer of fic­tion and plays. Born and raised in Amherst, Mass­a­chu­setts, he grad­u­at­ed from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, and has lived in Eng­land, Switzer­land, and New York City. This is his first novel.