Fragile Branches: Travels Through the Jewish Diaspora

 
9780756760205: Fragile Branches: Travels Through the Jewish Diaspora

Many modern Jews are searching for a way back to their religious roots-and a better understanding of their Jewish identity. In Fragile Branches, James R. Ross blazes a path into the heart of the Jewish experience, raising provocative questions about what it means to be Jewish in today's world. As he describes isolated Jewish communities in India, Peru, Brazil, and other unexpected countries, a vivid picture of contemporary Jewish life emerges, offering new perspectives on ancient precepts, thoughts, and rituals-and helping readers reexamine their own relationship with tradition.

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Review:

Fragile Branches: Travels Through the Jewish Diaspora is James R. Ross's account of his journeys among the world's most far-flung Jewish communities in countries including Uganda, India, Peru, and Brazil. Ross's accounts of the ways that each community discovered Judaism, and the ways that geographical isolation allows for both preservation and evolution of Jewish traditions, demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of theology and anthropology. His vivid anecdotal style (which grips the reader from the book's first scene--set "inside the gates of a small Jewish cemetery in Parintins, a dusty island town between the banks of the Amazon River") is that of a skilled literary journalist. Fragile Branches is not merely picturesque, however. Its concise introduction establishes the political and moral stakes of Ross's travelogues. Despite Israel's law of return (which permits immigration of anyone with one Jewish parent or grandparent), Ross notes that "Indians, Peruvians, and black Africans who practice Judaism face bureaucratic barriers and long delays from political and religious officials." Ross believes such harassment is unconscionable, considering that many of the Jews he visited have "sacrificed their jobs, friends, and even their families in their struggle to become Jews." In Fragile Branches Ross forcefully argues for the integrity of his subjects' religious identity, and against parochial notions of Judaism that would exclude them. "These disparate communities are searching for their places in the world. How we ... respond to them is nothing less than a reflection of how we look at ourselves." --Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author:

James R. Ross is the chair of the Jewish Studies program and an associate professor and acting director at the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, where he organizes an annual conference celebrating the arts of diaspora Jewish communities.

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