LOVESONG: Becoming a Jew by Julius Lester

LOVESONG: Becoming a Jew

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Lester's 15th book is a disjointed account of the author's boyhood as the son of a black Methodist minister, and of his conversion to Judaism. Lester's attraction to Judaism is intriguing, as are the concrete reasons he cites for his conversion: rebellion against his Methodist father, the discovery that his great-grandfather was Jewish, the relation the author feels to Jews as victims (""I need a model of suffering. . ."") and the comfort he derives from the religion (""there is something in Jewish music that makes me feel loved. . .""). But his account becomes muddled when he departs from self-examination and recounts two controversial events in his career. In 1968, Lester read an anti-Semitic poem by a black child on a N.Y.C. radio show that started ""Hey. Jew boy, with that yarmulke on your head/You pale faced Jew boy I wish you were dead."" Because he refused to disassociate himself from the poem, Lester was promptly labeled an anti-Semite. Then, in 1979, he published an anti. Palestinian article in the Village Voice that objected to attacks by blacks on Jews following the resignation of Andrew Young from the U.N. Lester called black leaders in this country ""arrogant"" and ""self-righteous,"" and was then labeled a traitor by his own race. But Lester does not explore the hostility in both of his actions, nor does he examine how his internal conflicts manifested themselves politically. Instead he goes on to justify, rationalize, preach and offer such cliched philosophies on life and religion as ""To say is not to know. To know is not to live. Not to mistake words for knowledge and knowledge for life is to be responsible for myself and God."" Although his conversational tone engages, the author's flippancy offends: "". . .My son's burden is to grow up when feminism roams the streets with all the intelligence of a lynch mob. . ."" For all his preaching, Lester finally comes off as confused and parochial as those he warns against.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1987
Publisher: Henry Holt