Some early praise from the Forward for Am I a Jew?. I think the writer, Josh Rolnick, was fair and perhaps even liked the book–which I’ll take, even if he does describe me as “earnest”. Reviews are a nervous-making business for the author of a first book, so I’m happily knocking on wood as I share the review.

Here’s my favorite bit:

In a way, all of Ross’s travels and seeking lead to a confrontation with his mother that exists at the book’s emotional core. In a powerfully written scene, he finally puts all of his questions to his mother, point blank. Her answers are stunning, uncomfortable and sad. They provide an honest portrait of Jewish fears (“I did not want my kids to be lampshades”) and assumptions (“everybody hates the Jews”) that we ignore at our peril. And they remind us that our own tussles with and choices about Judaism are perhaps more heavily influenced by our parents than we might like to admit. At one point, Ross asks his mother — given that his book is about her lie — why she told all her friends he was writing it. “Because I’m proud of you,” she says. And, suddenly, just as we were about to write her off, just as we were ready to label her eccentric or cowardly or odd, there she is — the Jewish mother we all recognize.

 

In what can officially be considered my first reading from Am I a Jew? (I was roped into service when one of our scheduled participants cancelled), I read part of a chapter during the “DadWagon Presents: Loinfruit, Meltdowns, and Weeknight Drinking” reading series. My colleague, Matt Gross, was kind enough to record it and do some internet magic to make it into a podcast, which you can listen to here. It’s from the chapter entitled, “Jewish Mother.” Enjoy!

That's what my book cover looks like

In every creative work, there are things that you produce and that you like that you will have eventually to do away with. The short passage below survived many of my drafts of the book, only to be cut in the final revisions. I took it out for several reasons:

First, my editor didn’t like it.

Second, while the sentiments expressed here were true to me, I thought they were a bit harsh in expression. I didn’t necessarily need to be likable–a meaningless and weak idea in nonfiction writing–but I didn’t see any reason to go out of my way to be arrogant when there was no need.

But I still like it, and what better use for this blog than to indulge myself in its publication? 

Excised from the introductory chapter, “Hidden Jew”:

Before I can begin, I feelt that I must insist on the personal aspect of the title question. Am I a Jew? Not you. Not your neighbor, not the old fellow snoring at the synagogue, the Lubavitcher on the corner hawking Messianic pamphlets, the Inquisitor at the local playground, the fundraiser who swears I’m not because I just won’t give.

As I have considered these matters, the work of the Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides has provided me with great intellectual comfort. I will therefore refer to a passage from one of his seminal works, The Guide for the Perplexed, to help explain my approach throughout this work:

I do not presume to think that this treatise settles every doubt in the minds of those who understand it….No intelligent man will require and expect that on introducing any subject I shall completely exhaust it; or that on commencing the exposition of a figure I shall fully explain all its parts. Such a course could not be followed by a teacher in a viva voce exposition, much less by an author in writing a book, without becoming a target for every foolish conceited person to discharge the arrows of folly at him.

The question of my Judaism is mine alone, to ask and to answer.

This isn’t Am I a Jew? related, but I thought I’d share it anyway. I was in a bicycle accident in New York this past March, and I wrote a very short essay for the The Morning News describing my thoughts in its aftermath. A longish quote from “The City of Right Angles”:

As a seventeen-year-old in 1990, I was robbed at gunpoint across the street from what is now a Marc Jacobs store. Could that happen to me there today? Yes. But would I see it as I did then, as a normal, far from notable occurrence, not worth reporting to the police? I doubt it. That same year, I saw the body of a man who had been shot and killed lying on the street outside my school. I gawked, no doubt, but I made it to my history class on time. I left New York not long after, for college and the lost years of travel, self-indulgence, and failed writing that comprised my twenties. By the time I returned I was married, the children not long in coming, and my acute sense of the city’s menacing rhythms had been blunted. But that no longer mattered. In this New York, grass grows on the Great Lawn in Central Park, the squeegee men have been banished, and the broken windows have been re-glazed. The city I knew, the one on whose streets and subway platforms my survival instincts were honed, no longer exists.

I interviewed the author of How Not To Kill Your Baby, Jacob Sager Weinstein, and it was funny, and so is the book, and you should read it (the book, but also the interview, too, which is up at DadWagon:

Theodore: That’s interesting, because I didn’t really read anger in it. To me, the subtext of the book was about how fears of parenting are unfounded and absurd, and that we should just worry less. Are you just totally pissed off in person, and it doesn’t come across on the page (or via IM, I should point out)?

Jacob:  HOW DARE YOU ASK ME THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Better?)

Or, in which I rage-read Ross Douthat as he attempts to link mapping of the human genome, prospective parents who choose to abort fetuses with Down Syndrome, historical eugenics supports, with current-day liberals. Slimy-yet-sophisticated!

A taste:

In 90 percent of cases, a positive test for Down syndrome leads to an abortion. It is hard to imagine that more expansive knowledge won’t lead to similar forms of prenatal selection on an ever-more-significant scale.

Is this sort of “liberal eugenics,” in which the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state, entirely different from the eugenics of Fisher’s era, which forced sterilization on unwilling men and women? Like so many of our debates about reproductive ethics, that question hinges on what one thinks about the moral status of the fetus.

That's what my book cover looks like

All, figured I’d put up my contact info, just a way to get started (it’s permanently located in the “Who the Hell is Theodore Ross?” page).

Here goes: if you want to email me, feel free to do so at ted@theodoreross.net. I’ll write back! You can also find me on Twitter at @theodoreross. Because this is the 21st century, I also have a Facebook page for the book. Check me out at www.facebook.com/AmIAJewByTheodoreRoss. And “like” away!