SUDDENLY JEWISH by Barbara Kessel

SUDDENLY JEWISH

Jews Raisesd as Gentiles Discover Their Jewish Roots

KIRKUS REVIEW

In the latest entry in the excellent Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture and Life, Kessel (Director of Administration/Board of Jewish Education) talks to over 160 men and women who uncovered a family secret of identity-shaking proportions.

In recent years, the stories of children hidden during the Holocaust and families that submerged their Judaism under a welter of subterfuges have become as common as self-help books (albeit considerably more interesting reading). Kessel attempts to find some larger perspective on this phenomenon by surveying the experiences of a large sampling of adults who discovered at some point that their ostensibly non-Jewish families were, in fact, Jewish. For some, this revelation came as a shattering blow to their self-image and identity; for others, it served to confirm suspicions long held in private, allowing them fully to embrace a world to which they had always been drawn. Kessel divides her subjects into three groups: the all-too-familiar categories of hidden children of Holocaust survivors, Jewish children who were adopted by non-Jews, and the crypto-Jews who descended from the victims of the Inquisition and forcible conversion. Although the chapter on the crypto-Jews is fascinating, this group sticks out from the rest of her narrative uneasily, with a distinct identity and set of problems that seems shoe-horned into this slender volume to fill it out to book length. Much of the story consists of transcripts of Kessel’s interviews, and she is fortunate in her subjects: they are uniformly thoughtful, articulate, and sensitive. So is the author herself, with the result that this is a compelling account to read even when it seems a bit unfocussed in its larger perspectives.

Despite a certain fuzziness in its conclusions, a powerful collection of personal testimonies.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2000
ISBN: 1-58465-038-9
Page count: 188pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2000




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