A Soviet-born doctor reflects on a life devoted to Judaism.
Tsesis’ (Communist Daze, 2017) writes that his parents grew up in the Jewish faith but were compelled to hide their religious allegiance under authoritarian Soviet rule. As a result, the author observes, their commitment to their Jewish faith atrophied, and their suppressed spirituality eventually became completely absent. Tsesis grew up as a cultural but not actively religious Jew, for the most part, but even as a young man, he experienced a profound attraction to religion; at one point, he tells of having a dream in which he encountered the “intuitive awareness of Divine Presence.” As he experienced ferocious anti-Semitism in his life, he remained impressed by the irrepressibility of faith and the historical adaptability of the Jewish people. His memoir is more an assemblage of essays than it is a linear, comprehensive autobiography, as he not only records his life of faith but also furnishes a rational explanation of it. According to Tsesis, only the reality of a monotheistic god could ever adequately account for the “miraculous diversity of our amazing world.” In often poetical and rousing terms, he pits his deep appreciation of the “unfathomable mystery of existence” against communistic ideology and dogmatic atheism. He even provides an anatomy of what he sees as the limitations of Darwin’s theory of evolution, accepting many of its chief principles but denying that it captures the full spectrum of human experience. Tsesis’ life is a memorably eventful one, deeply affected by the modern rise of totalitarianism. He recounts his spiritual awakening with a combination of philosophical wonder and openhanded emotion—which makes for a stirring combination. In particular, his account of living under Soviet rule is extraordinary; while he was a physician in Odessa, he says, he was asked to lead a “scientific atheism study group.” However, he occasionally indulges his own brand of dogmatism, heavy-handedly branding atheism a “false religion,” equating it with “naïve simplicity,” and accusing it of reducing life to “pointless vanity.”
An often moving defense of the need for religion in modern times.