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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Here is what “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” is about:

“Shaland takes you by the hand and delivers a Jewish heart.”— C.J. Brown, Editor, HaLapid Magazine

“These are investigations of Jewish communities…in some of the world’s most exotic, romantic or just plain unlikely locations.”— L. Hankin, Editor, Intermountain Jewish News

“This book is full of Jewish survival stories and fascinating tales. Though not a conventional travel guide, the book will help the reader learn about the history of Jewish communities in ten countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa and show hard to find places they might want to visit.”—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.

About the Author:

Irene Shaland is an internationally-published art and travel writer, educator, and lecturer focusing on the rich tapestry of global Jewish experiences, culture, and heritage. A member of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies, she is a presenter at the Society’s annual conferences and contributor to its HaLapid academic journal.  Irene is a contributing author and lecturer at Siegal College of Jewish Studies, Touro Law School of New York, the Center for Jewish History Research, the American Sephardic Federation in New York, and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

Irene authored three books, including recently published “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” and numerous magazine articles on Jewish history and cultural travel published in such American, Canadian, and U.K magazines as The Baltimore Jewish Times, The Boston Forward, Chicago Jewish News, The Jewish Journal of Greater Boston, Cleveland Jewish News, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Detroit Jews News, Hackwriters Literary Online UK magazine, Holiday Magazine – France/UK, IMAGE Magazine, The Jewish Journal of San Antonio, Jewish Life Magazine, Jewish Montreal, L’Chaim Magazine of the Intermountain Jewish News, London Jewish Telegraph, Los Angeles Jewish Times, The Lotus, Montreal Jewish Magazine, Northern Ohio Life, Orange County Jewish Life, Jewish Chronicle – Pittsburgh, ROMAR Travel, San Diego Jewish Journal, Shelanu – Kenya, Sino-Judaica Institute Academic Magazine, Theater Journal, Tikkun Magazine, The Toronto Jewish Tribune, Washington Jewish Week, ZEEK Magazine, and 5 Towns Jewish Times.

Irene holds a BA in Journalism and Art History from St. Petersburg University (Russia), a Master’s Degree in English from Case Western Reserve University, and a Master’s Degree in Information Sciences from Kent State University.

Take a look at Other Books by Irene Shaland