Sunday, November 13, 2011

Book Review: Stars of David

I've been challenged lately. You see, I'm Jewish {I've said that, a few times?} but my mother is not. And that is an issue for a whole lot of people more religious than I because Jewish lineage is traced through the mother. Although I knew that growing-up in my reform-ish synagogue, I've had a few somewhat recent experiences that have made me extremely self-conscious about it. For a long time I was more religious than a lot of my Jewish-mother peers: I went to Hebrew school on Sundays, I had a Bat Mitzvah, I taught Hebrew and Judaica classes after I was confirmed {and read Torah, I might add}. And yet, I've been told by some surprising people that in their opinion I'm not really Jewish, that they don't think I should have been allowed to do those things, that I need to convert. It's been tough for me to sort out these emotions in my head and I've just taken a break from the whole religious landscape.

So, you can see why, when I was browsing at the library the other day that this book sort of jumped out at me. Famous Jewish people talking about being Jewish. Huh. And so, I picked it up.

This book is a conglomeration of short memoirs on what it means to American Jews to be Jewish as told by the most famous among us. Steven Spielberg, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Neil Simon, Barney Frank, Sarah Jessica Parker {and many, many more. Like Dr. Laura. Did anyone else know that she, at one time, was an Orthodox Jew?}. Their opinions and experiences are as diverse as any group of randomly selected Jews. Some are very observant and daven {pray} three times a day and keep strict kosher, and some are more like, "well, my mom was Jewish and I really like matzo ball soup, so...." Some survived the Holocaust {several have told of being very small children and remembering getting out just. in. time}, and some were told of that history later in life. They simply didn't know that their parents or grandparents were there, and that their family members perished in Auschwitz.

Reading these stories was kind of an affirmation. It reminded me that my Jewishness is not the sum of other people's opinions about it. It's mine and how I choose to practice. Yes, there are some very real consequences to not having a Jewish mother {I cannot for example, make Aliyah, or move to Israel without going through an arduous immigration process}, and I still have to work through how I feel about that. Yet, I'm still part of a rich tradition that it would be silly to discard because of what a few people told me, or because I disagree with a few people. I'm better than that.

Having said that, I do want to warn you: this book {seemingly} never ends. There are so many memoirs in here that towards the end, I was ready for it to be over. You can only read so many snippets before you start "checking your watch" and I started doing that about 300 pages into it {the book is around 350 pages}.

And what about those of you who aren't Jewish? If you're interested, this is a really great look into the diversity of Judaism, and particularly American Judaism. It is really a good summation of many people's experiences. That being said the folks interviewed tend toward the not religious. It's important to mention that because, although that is a trend in Judaism, particularly with the rise of interfaith marriages, it does neglect an entire group of folks who are extremely observant. Their experiences are important, too, but you won't find as many in here.

In sum: great book, valuable to me, you should read! Enjoy!

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