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Am I a Jew?: Lost Tribes, Lapsed Jews, and One Man's Search for Himself
     

Am I a Jew?: Lost Tribes, Lapsed Jews, and One Man's Search for Himself

5.0 2
by Theodore Ross
 

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What makes someone Jewish?

Theodore Ross was nine years old when he moved with his mother from New York City to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Once there, his mother decided, for both personal and spiritual reasons, to have her family pretend not to be Jewish. He went to an Episcopal school, where he studied the New Testament, sang in the choir, and even took

Overview

What makes someone Jewish?

Theodore Ross was nine years old when he moved with his mother from New York City to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Once there, his mother decided, for both personal and spiritual reasons, to have her family pretend not to be Jewish. He went to an Episcopal school, where he studied the New Testament, sang in the choir, and even took Communion. Later, as an adult, he wondered: Am I still Jewish?

Seeking an answer, Ross traveled around the country and to Israel, visiting a wide variety of Jewish communities. From “Crypto-Jews” in New Mexico and secluded ultra-devout Orthodox towns in upstate New York to a rare Classical Reform congregation in Kansas City, Ross tries to understand himself by experiencing the diversity of Judaism.

Quirky and self-aware, introspective and impassioned, Am I a Jew? is a story about the universal struggle to define a relationship (or lack thereof) with religion.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1982, when Men’s Journal editor Ross was nine, he moved with his divorced mother to a small Mississippi town. She instructed him to hide his Jewishness and to say he was Unitarian. By the time he was an adult, Ross had developed a furtive fascination with Judaism and continually asked himself if he was a Jew and what it really meant to be a Jew. His quest took him around the country, sampling a variety of ways of being Jewish. He met a Catholic priest from Albuquerque, N.Mex., with a genetic marker linking him to the Israelite priesthood. Ross visits “Sukkah City,” which draws 100,000 to New York’s Union Square for an architectural design contest for a ritual “booth.” Ross joins a frenzied all-male circle of dancers at an ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn wedding and visits a Reform temple in Kansas City, Mo., that’s ousting its rabbi for bringing back long-abandoned traditions like bar mitzvahs. This effort lacks the depth, clarity, and originality of the best books on Jewish spiritual journeys like Paul Cowan’s 1982 An Orphan in History, and Ross’s kvetching about the loss of his heritage feels contrived. His encounters with various Jews nevertheless offer moments that are perceptive and provocative. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Theodore Ross, who may or may not be Jewish, is excellent company on the page. Whether he's discovering secret Jews in New Mexico, attempting to discern the brighter side of Orthodox Judaism, or interrogating his family members about their own religious foibles and dodges, Am I a Jew? is always moving, heartfelt, funny, and alive. This is a terrific-and terrifically odd-memoir."

TOM BISSELL, author of Extra Lives and Magic Hours

"Am I a Jew is a brilliant American odyssey, one that is both inside and outside of traditions both national and religious; it's also often very funny, and always very empathic; Ross has written a genuinely great book."
RIVKA GALCHEN, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

"[This] intelligent and altogether entertaining account of searching out the roots of identity will be of interest not only to those who've asked, 'Am I a Jew?' but also to anyone who's ever wondered, 'What am I, anyway?' One finishes this book thankful for a fuller understanding of the diverse strains within the Jewish tradition and not a little awed by the writer's compelling mix of skepticism, candor, and love."
GARRET KEIZER, author of Privacy and The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want

"An elegant guide for the perplexed inhabitants of our increasingly disorienting world, Am I a Jew? is a profound meditation on the nature of modern identity."
ROGER HODGE, author of The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism

Kirkus Reviews
Men's Journal articles editor Ross embarks on a sampling mission of Jewish experiences. Born to Jewish parents, when the author was 9 years old, he moved with his mother, divorced and with a failed medical practice in New York City, to Mississippi. Fearing the repercussions of professing their religion in that place at that time, and not altogether comfortable with Judaism in general, she told her children to say they were Unitarians, and little of real Jewishness touched their lives. Time passed, and Ross wanted to know more about his Jewish identity. "The result has been a furtive fascination with Judaism," he writes, "one that compels and repels in equal measure." That ambivalence serves him well as he investigates some of the more eccentric strains of Judaism to see if they speak to him of his Jewish identity. Ross' voice is both questioning and questing, the passion tamped but alight, and a few communities were seemingly amenable to his way in the world: Reboot, "the Jewish illuminati," were obvious candidates, but the author wondered about their distinctive efficacy regarding identity, and a Classical Reform Congregation was enticing--liberal, principled, rooted, free of stereotypes--but its cult of synthesis interweaving Judaism and Americanism felt muddled. Ross is a fine practitioner of the kaleidoscopic research approach, but for clear reasons he was not going to join Hasidic, ultra-Orthodox or Crypto-Jewish groups. His lack of faith did not deter him, and he found meaning in contemporary Judaism's "iconoclasm, abstract monotheism, and social justice," and its undetectable Supreme Being. A pleasant collection of honest, critically discriminating encounters with the Jewish faith and culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594630958
Publisher:
Hudson Street Press
Publication date:
08/30/2012
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Am I a Jew? It is an obvious question, but one that even the most sophisticated minds struggle to answer. It's a silly question, except millions have lost their lives, depending on their response. It's a religious question, except when an atheist asks it. There is, admittedly, a certain Hebraic quality in even asking it.

Meet the Author

THEODORE ROSS is the articles editor of Men's Journal. Cofounder of the parenting blog DadWagon, Ross's essays, features, and fiction have appeared in the New York Times, Atlantic, Saveur, Tin House, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his family.

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Am I a Jew?: Lost Tribes, Lapsed Jews, and One Man's Search for Himself 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A thoughtful and thought provoking book by a young man on a quest for his spiritual essence. At times serious , at times humorous, always interesting. I'm not Jewish but found this book well worth reading-- thanks for the book mr ross.