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.
“I have always wanted to go to Africa to see all the wildlife. However, we are of an age that now prevents us from going on a Safari. But reading Alex’s book took me right there and I met lions, and elephants and big cats and more.
The photo of this elephant is my entry for the 2019 AAWR Members Annual Exhibition. I took this photo during our 2013 Great Migration trip to Kenya and Tanzania in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. The sun was setting down, and dark clouds were rapidly moving in. On the way to the lodge, we passed this majestic animal rapidly walking along the side of the road. The plains, the dark clouds, and the walking giants were too dramatic not to snap a photo.
This book is full of Jewish survival stories and fascinating tales. It shines the light on the history of Jewish communities in ten countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa.” – GTA Books.
Two and a half millennia ago, a small party of Jews explored new trading routes for King Solomon, settled in the south of India, and lived there peacefully until today. Similarly, during the ancient Roman period, many Jewish merchants traveled to China over the Silk Route and some made it their permanent home.
Also, before the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, Sicily was home to over 50 Jewish communities, possibly numbering 50,000 people. So, how did the Diaspora bring these wandering Jews to so many places around the globe? And why did Jews live happily in India and China for centuries and not experience antisemitism, while the story of the Jews in Europe went from persecutions and massacres to unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust? Finally, why do we see the rise of antisemitism and violence again in the 21st century?
You will find answers to these questions and much more in the current edition of Irene Shaland’s artfully illustrated book The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories. She collected these fascinating stories while visiting ten countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa and interviewing the locals in their homes, synagogues, and even cemeteries. Now, Irene Shaland’s book, replete with her husband’s photos, takes you on your own exciting journey of discovery from Austria and the Czech Republic to Scandinavia, from India and China to Sicily and Sardinia, and from East Africa to Stalinist Russia.
Going on an African safari by yourself or in a small group is not advisable. Suppose, you are standing in front of a lion or a rhinoceros and trying to calculate your chances of getting out of this situation in one piece and hopefully not perforated in too many places. You are staring at the whatever it is that is going to do a very bad thing to you and all that is going through your mind is “o sh….t”. But look at the situation from the lion’s point of view. It has to charge you, yes you. Who else is there to eat? You are the protein!
This is a Jewish story of Africa that I found in the most unlikely of places: the vast plains of Masai Mara and Serengeti reserves. As we drove there, we saw the light-skinned, tall, slender people dressed in red, who were as ubiquitous to the landscape as sky above and earth below. Surrounded by their herd of cattle, they leaned on their long spears or stood on one leg in a stork-like pose. Bearing remarkable similarities to ancient Romans from North Africa, most had classical profiles, wore red togas and sandals, and were equipped with Roman-style short stabbing swords. Women had shaved heads, while the young men’s hair was plated and stuck together with red clay. To us, they looked like young mythical gods. These are the proud Masai (sometimes referred to as Maasai) people of East Africa, whose mysterious past is enveloped in legends of being one of the lost tribes of Israel.
We were travelling all day: through the exotic strangeness of the Zanzibar Stone Town to the Nairobi airport’s thick mess of people and suitcases, sickening smells and deafening noises. Then again, through the traffic and dust and darkness of Nairobi streets, until all of sudden, like a mirage in the wilderness, we saw a brilliantly lit Jewish star. “Are you meeting with Barbara?” a voice asked. We were.