Jewish Diaspora Book Review

We came across a recent review of Irene Shaland’s book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories: Tales of Jewish Diaspora, Persecution, the Holocaust and Rebirth in Europe, Africa and Asia” and want to share it with our readers.

Reviewed by  Beverly Friend, Ph. D., Professor of English at Oakton Community College, Executive Director of the China Judaic Studies Association.

“When this book came out, I emailed a brief blurb to the China/Judaic Studies list, noting the cities and countries covered.  However, Chapter 4, on Kaifeng, is  of special interest.  Reading Shaland’s words brought back many memories of the time I was there in 1993 leading a group of senior citizens with Professor Xu Xin and meeting the late scholar Wang Yisha, who had written the first important history about these descendants (in Chinese).

I also fondly recalled  the tale Rabbi Neil Brief had told of his even earlier visit  when he saw the tour bus driver with tears in his eyes as the Rabbi recited Kaddish at a family memorial mound.  When the Rabbi had been asked, via an interpreter, why the man was crying, he was told that it was because the Jews, like the Chinese, venerated their ancestors.

I, too, could have wept while reading the writer’s words because what she captured was the past – and now, in the present, we are not even permitted to visit. We can no longer walk in her footsteps. Of course, this is not because of the virulent virus in our midst but of an equally virulent denial of history. This chapter is a fine introduction to what existed. If you have never visited Kaifeng or learned its unique history, here is an introduction.  For those who wished to visit in the future, here is sad reminder of what we have lost with the closing of these doors to tourists and scholars.

In words and photographs, Shaland gives a  history of the city, from earliest settlers, information on the famous steles,  the importance of the silk road, a visit to a family memorial mound, the granting of names, and the stories of people met and interviewed—all quite interesting.

What I like most about her entire book detailing her travels with her photographer  husband Alex, is the variety of each leg of her trip. As she travels through Europe and Asia each story has a different emphasis – it might be history, or architecture, or unique inhabitants —  as she visits cities in  Austria, the Czech Republic, China, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Sicily, Africa and the Soviet Union. For example, in the very first chapter, on Austria, I was captured by the extensive, fascinating information on Franz Kafka.”

Please take a look at Irene Shaland’s book on Amazon where you can browse it for free:

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