books and reading · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

Review: Stranger in the Midst

Aside from writing my book and writing personal essays and articles here and there, I’ve assigned myself homework. I’ve been trying to books written by other converts. On top, of course, of reading books on writing. I haven’t gotten as far as I would like on either front because other memoirs and more fictional accounts have distracted me away from my homework assignments. I’m sure that my former students would find it hilarious that “Ms. Diaz,” as they still call me, has trouble doing her own homework!

I just finished Stranger in the Midst: A Memoir of Spiritual Discovery by Nan Fink. Fink helped found Tikkun magazine. In that way, I find that she is one of the stereotypical super converts, the kind that end up becoming president of their shul or running the Sisterhood. I guess, the kind I’d like to be.

The memoir feels like it is torn in a couple of directions. Fink wants to give us her voice as a convert but also lets us see the voice of other converts. She also tries to analyze how different parts of her life color how she sees Judaism and spirituality. She accomplishes tying together all these different strands of ideas in her book.

One strand that I found particularly dissatisfying was Fink’s focus on feminism. She’s got a strong feminism bent that I couldn’t connect with and so it might have come off a little heavy-handed with me. Again, as I’ve blogged before, though, I’m not much of a Jewish feminist, though I suppose I would be considered a feminist in other realms.

I think the book’s greatest accomplishment is that Fink takes us from the beginning of her conversion process to several years, nearly a decade, later. As she notes, most accounts of spiritual journeys talk about the road getting there and end with the convert dipping into the mikvah. Fink, however, focuses on that precipitous fall that can happen AFTER the dip when the shiny glow of everything finally starts to wear off. She was really honest and “real” about her experiences and there were times in the book where I truly ached for her.

Would I recommend it? Though I didn’t love it as much as Julius Lester’s Lovesong, I think that Fink highlights a lot of points that converts and prospective converts would identify with and think about.

For a meatier review of the book, check out “A Jewish Odyssey.”

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