I don’t write book reviews but this one had to be done.
Never has a book impacted me so deeply as Julius Lester’s Lovesong: Becoming a Jew. Sure I was interested because I am Jewish but more than that I had first read his more recent novel Autobiography of God, which is provocative and certainly mind and soul opening.
Lovesong reads like a coming of age story for those of us who survived the 60s. It also gave his story of growing up ‘colored’ in the south in the 40s and 50s -when Blacks had to go to the back of the bus, drink from separate fountains and deal with the fear of being lynched if they looked at a white woman or wanted to eat in a restaurant. Lester’s father is a Methodist minister and the view of God and religion he was taught was all about sin, hell, redemption.
Somewhere in his soul early on, he yearned to know that life was different than he witnessed, that there was a holiness in religion. He was good with words and in college he had a radio show, wrote for the newspaper, reporting the stories of the times. For him, and us, those times were filled with civil rights, fear of the ‘other,’ and Black activism.
Lester’s words displease one group or another – whether it is his own Black community or the Jewish community – he feared for his life and yet he told ‘it’ as he saw it. Great courage.
And yet there is a song that fills him with questions about why this song that he first played on the piano when he was 7 – the sacred prayer of the Jewish people - kol nidre. For me, too, long after I had turned my back on my Jewish faith, whenever I heard kol nidre it touched a cord so deep that I would cry, always. Still do.
His journey to becoming a Jew is a long and poignant hero’s journey. He teaches a black history course which expanded into the crossing points where Jews and Blacks connect, compete and condemn. His learning curve is arduous and disciplined and somewhere along the way he trusts that it is his soul’s yearning for connection to God and joy.
I write this review on Father’s Day 2012 because I also see his story so much about relationship to our fathers and being a parent. Loving our fathers, losing our fathers, questioning whether we could be better parents to our sons. Must we rule with fear, can we teach with our souls. This book is about family relationships as much as it is the search for a loving God.
This book made me look at my own fears of speaking the truth, in both personal relationships and even more so in my journey to becoming a storyteller, who brings together science and the sacred view of who we are as invisible magnificent cellular beings. This week I recognized that my soul wants to speak and not be held back from telling it the way I see it. You don’t have to agree with my beliefs, but I don’t have to hide from saying them for fear of being ‘beat up’ for them or made wrong.
When I was growing up I was beat up for being a Jew. Everyone on the street where I lived knew, though my skin wasn’t the tell tale sign. Was it my nose? Was it not going to church on Sunday like everyone else? But this review is not to talk about my sufferings on being different rather a deep thank you for Julius Lester’s honesty and presence to open to a part of life that is a gift in its telling. It reads like a novel, most of the time, engaging from the first word. If your heart is pining to open to your deeper and greater self, read Lovesong, its one of Lester’s many fine books.