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 its repressive infrastructure.
An elegantly composed work about Jewish identity that yields enormous insight from direct, simple questions.