Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Am I a Jew? : lost tribes, lapsed Jews, and one man's search for himself / Theodore Ross 275 p.
It's a more meaningful question for author Ross, though, who was born to Jewish parents in New York but as a child moved to Mississippi with his mother, who insisted that they pretend to be Unitarian. As an adult, Ross struggles to piece together his own feelings about identity and religion. He visits various non-mainstream Jewish communities throughout the United States, such as the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico, who are currently not recognized by the state of Israel. These communities are composed mostly of people who believe they are descended from Spanish conversos, those forced to convert to Catholicism under the Inquisition. Ross is careful not to make overt judgments here, but the people he meets range from spiritually sincere to wacko.
In Kansas City, he visits a Classical Reform Judaism congregation, wealthy descendants of Jewish families who strove to create worship communities centered on ethics and social justice rather than spirituality and ritual. Their numbers have been dwindling in recent years as younger congregants seek more traditional worship styles. And during an extended visit to Israel he uncovers the stories of Ethiopian Jews, who have differing statuses in Israel depending on whether their ancestors converted to Christianity.
Ross' story is specific to him, yet I found it fascinating for its universality. Issues such as the importance of ritual versus spirituality, and the significance of our heritage on the identities we choose to embrace have meaning for many of us. Although I suspected at times that Ross was more interested in his book contract than his faith, he managed to write a worthwhile story all the same.