Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community

Overview

Raised in a nonreligious Jewish family, Charles London knew hisheritage but had no strong desire to experience it personally. Thenin the summer of 2004, while doing relief work in Bosnia, he stumbled upon a remarkable community—where Jews worked alongside Muslims and Christians to rebuild a city ravaged by war. This encounter gave him the idea for a journey that would take him aroundthe world and back to his roots.

Far from Zion is the story of Jews in far-flung, often ...

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Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community

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Overview

Raised in a nonreligious Jewish family, Charles London knew hisheritage but had no strong desire to experience it personally. Thenin the summer of 2004, while doing relief work in Bosnia, he stumbled upon a remarkable community—where Jews worked alongside Muslims and Christians to rebuild a city ravaged by war. This encounter gave him the idea for a journey that would take him aroundthe world and back to his roots.

Far from Zion is the story of Jews in far-flung, often surprising places. Despite efforts by Israel to bring these scattered people home to Zion, they have chosen to remain in the lands of their birth: a shopkeeper selling Jewish trinkets in Iran, a caretaker keeping watch over an all-but-forgotten synagogue in Rangoon, revelers at a Hanukkah celebration in an Arkansas bowling alley, a Cuban engineering professor, proud of his Jewish heritage and prouder still of his Communist ideals. It is through their stories and many others that London examines his own identity, as he, too, struggles to come to terms with his connection to Zion.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An assimilated Jew, journalist London (One Day the Soldiers Came) was shaken to learn that his thoroughly modern grandmother was born in a small, Orthodox, Yiddish-speaking community in Virginia. A reunion of this now-gone “shtetl” that had coexisted peacefully with its gentile neighbors inspired him to discover other Jewish communities in challenging circumstances that live peacefully with their gentile neighbors—which he rather simplistically opposes to Israel, whose violence in the West Bank and Gaza he deplores. In Rangoon, Burma, in the midst of a military crackdown, he wonders why the city's Jewish community is dying; in Iran, he finds a Jewish community not too worried about anti-Semitism, with a guaranteed seat in Parliament, 30 synagogues and six schools. In Cuba, London wonders whether Jews join the Jewish community more for spiritual connection or for perks like a government beef ration; in Bosnia, he finds an inclusive Judaism that gave back to society at large. Finally, Israel's powerful Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial makes London believe for the first time in the necessity of a Jewish state. While a sincere and soul-searching observer, London often comes across as politically naïve and admittedly ill-informed about Jewish history and rituals. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
London (director of curriculum, War Kids Relief) recounts his journey to a number of small Jewish communities, ranging from the American South to Myanmar. While his primary aim is to examine why Jews in the Diaspora do not move to Israel, the major subtexts are his effort to understand how Jews survive in small Diaspora communities and, in the process, to search for his own Jewish identity. Within the travelog format, London intersperses material about the history of these small Jewish communities, linking them to the broader scope of the Jewish experience, in some cases ranging back to biblical times. He concludes with the assertion that Jews should lead the world away from an exclusively national, and therefore parochial, worldview toward a global identity. VERDICT The book reflects an attitude toward nationalism, especially Zionism, that ranges from ambivalence to outright hostility. London's understanding of the nature of the Diaspora experience ranges from insightful to superficial, making the book somewhat unsatisfactory for historians but enjoyable for fans of personal journeys of discovery.—Frederic Krome, Clermont Coll., Univ. of Cincinnati
Kirkus Reviews
An intimate journey of discovery throughout the Jewish Diaspora. Admittedly a gay nonpracticing Jew from Baltimore, journalist London (One Day the Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War, 2007) grew increasingly curious about his Jewish heritage while in Bosnia researching his previous book. He was intrigued by how the small community of Jews there had acted as deeply sympathetic caretakers and peacemakers during turbulent times, while at the same time the notions of Zionism and Israel aroused irate reactions and hostility. With the death of his grandmother in 2007, London was surprised to learn that she hailed from a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jewish community in Berkley, Va., part of a "shtetl in Dixie" that was close-knit and active but has since dissolved. Subsequently, London set out to find Jewish communities "in challenging circumstances that had found paths other than confrontation and violence." His illuminating journey took him to Rangoon, Burma, where a small group of faithful attempted to worship at a synagogue in one of the most repressive countries in the world; Bosnia, where the history of the country's disasters has equipped the people for rebirth and rebuilding; eastern Uganda, where the Abayudaya are committed converts and have no intention of emigrating to Israel; Iran, where Jews coexist uneasily with Muslims; Cuba, where Jews are welcomed into the revolutionary "messianic" state; and Bentonville, Ark., home of Wal-Mart, where most of the worshipers weren't even born or raised as Jews. Eventually London had to face the idea of a Jewish homeland, and his visit to Israel both charmed him, in terms of the country's openness, and alarmed him, when confronting itsrepressive infrastructure. An elegantly composed work about Jewish identity that yields enormous insight from direct, simple questions. New York regional author appearances. Agent: Robert Guinsler/Sterling Lord Literistic
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061561061
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles London is a former research associate with Refugees International and director of curriculum for War Kids Relief, a peace-building organization. He is the 1999 winner of the Rolling Stone College Journalism Award, and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, and other national publications. He has been a young-adult librarian for the New York Public Library and is the author of One Day the Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

1 Belonging 1

2 Caretakers: The Jewish Community of Burma 24

3 Newcomers: The Jewish Community of Bentonville, Arkansas 58

4 Rebirth: The Jewish Community of New Orleans 98

5 Siege and Survival: The Jewish Community of Bosnia 124

6 Converts: The Jewish Community of Uganda 156

7 Imperiled": The Jewish Community of Iran 192

8 Revolutionaries: The Jewish Community of Cuba 227

9 Zion 260

Epilogue: Home 301

Acknowledgments 309

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