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90-second review -- "Fragile Branches: Travels through the Jewish Diaspora"

Author: James R. Ross

Synopsis: Ross explores the question of Jewishness, through groups of people in remote areas of Peru, Uganda and other countries. These groups, including some who claim a connection to the lost tribes of Israel, worship in non-traditional ways but seek acceptance among Jewish and Israeli authorities.

Review: With simple prose, Ross explores the question: What is a Jew? Visiting communities around the world, he chronicles the groups' struggles to get recognition from Israeli authorities, or to immigrate there. His writing is strongest when he questions the political and cultural underpinnings of that struggle. For example, are those who immigrate to Israel left to be "human shields" in dangerous settlements in the heavily near Palestinian West Bank? But he seems to pull his punches when asking whether a racial bias exists among Jewish leaders. And he hews too closely to the Orthodox viewpoint, ignoring the conflicting theories about Jewishness that might be supplied by Conservative or Reform movements.

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Read it if you like: Jewish history and books such as "My Father's Paradise."

Avoid this if: You're looking for a deep, scholarly discussion of Jewishness.


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