Wicked Son

The Lilac Tree: A Rabbi’s Reflections on Love, Courage, and History


Applying Jewish values to our personal and communal lives.

Ammiel Hirsch has been one of America’s leading rabbis for more than three decades. A Zionist activist who spent his formative years in Israel, Hirsch rose to prominence as the executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America and then as the spiritual leader of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in the Upper West Side in Manhattan.

The Lilac Tree offers stirring reflections on life and death, science and faith, political activism and deep learning, and history and the future. Hirsch grapples with the harsh realities of COVID-19, anti-Semitism, and America in the wake of the Trump presidency. We travel with him to the ruins of Ancient Greece and Rome, the site of Auschwitz, and a hotel in Basel where Theodor Herzl dreamed of a Jewish state—all seen through his incisive, witty, and eminently Jewish lens.

Moving easily between the day-to-day and the sublime, The Lilac Tree draws upon Hirsch’s wealth of Jewish and general wisdom to present a comprehensive worldview that is both eternal in its scope and acutely relevant, even urgent, for our own lives.

“This beautifully written and compellingly argued book is an essential guide to the faith of a contemporary liberal Jew. The Lilac Tree is that rare achievement, bringing together the eclectic commitments of the Jewish peopleto God, Jewish continuity, Israel, humanityin a coherent worldview, a love song to the Jewish story. Passionate, sober and wise, this book presents an American Judaism capable of inspiring and transforming lives, showing us the way to a life of service and wonder. It explains why Ammi Hirsch is one of America’s most important and beloved rabbis.”
Yossi Klein Halevi, New York Times Bestselling Author and Shalom Hartman Institute Senior Fellow

“Many are intelligent, but few are wise. Rabbi Ammi Hirsch is one of the few. Many think and write mostly from the head, others mostly from the heart. In this beautiful and important collection, somehow Ammi thinks and writes mostly with both.”

Rabbi Steve Leder, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Rabbi Hirsch’s essays are inspirational and insightful gems filled with wisdom, history, philosophy, and a blending of the ideal and the real. People of Jewish descent will embrace this book in a heartfelt manner, however you do not need to be Jewish to appreciate the uplifting and optimistic approach to the existential questions of the meaning of life that Rabbi Hirsch addresses. This is a beautifully contemplative yet practical book, a must read for those seeking to fill the spiritual void left by modernity!”

Erica Komisar, LCSW, Wall Street Journal contributor and author

“Starting with the birth of time, and following an arc of history, Ammiel Hirsch, through some fifty penetrating essays, challenges us to confront some deep questions that have shaped our lives. Writing with great fluidity, steeped in history and philosophy, this leading voice in the Reform Jewish movement has much to teach us. Yet, asking the hard questions as he does, he does not shy away from bold answers. But the power of this collection lies in its success in keeping these subjects alive in contemporary discourse.”

Matthew Goldstein, former chancellor of the City University of New York
“Few rabbis write and speak with the eloquence, compassion, and moral urgency of Rabbi Ammi Hirsch. This book, a reflection of his lifetime of learning, teaching, and serving the Jewish people is a mustread for anyone seeking what lies at the heart of Judaism as it evolved over the centuries and the centrality of the timetested Jewish ethical impulse that offers the world a means to repair its brokenness.”
John L. Rosove, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood

“Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch’s The Lilac Tree is incredible. What a sensitive, literary, human soul.”

David Hazony, writer, speaker, editor and author

“Rabbi Ammi Hirsch has it alla keen eye for the human condition; a discerning ear for those things that are said, unsaid, and need to be said; and the fearless demeanor of one of liberal Judaism’s great moral voices. His is an authentic Jewish presence that commands attention, and this book shows why.”

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, Religion News Service columnist