books and reading · culture/multiculturalism · Israel · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · New York · race/racism · religion · writing

How do you get from ghetto to ghetto?

Just what was I expecting “From Ghetto to Ghetto”? As a writer and fellow convert myself to Judaism, I have read many, many books about the journeys others have traveled to conversion. I have loved none so much as Julius Lester’s “Lovesong: Becoming a Jew.” I devoured, gobbled it down, page by page. And yet, “From Ghetto to Ghetto” is not without its own merit. No other memoir, really almost an autobiography in this case, has illuminated so much about the African American experience and also, the African American Jewish experience in quite the same way.
At times, the author Ernest H. Adams can be quite shocking. He will skirt the edge of what some conservative audiences will be able to handles in some areas. Still, other times, the reader will wonder whether Adams he has gone too far and this is mostly because he is honest with us, painfully and incredibly honest, about what he has lived as a black man and what he has lived as a Jewish black man.

“Ghetto to Ghetto” devotes equal time to Adams’ life before Judaism in one ghetto (Harlem) and later to his life as a Jew. It is a very balanced portrayal. And yet, Adams does not have the deft writing skill that fellow African-American convert Julius Lester. The writing is at times inconsistent, flying from clinical to astoundingly, richly poetic. The story structure is at times enigmatic and unexpected but it never loses steam. The reader never stops feeling impressed by the weight of meaning behind Adams’ powerful experiences.

Adams goes to great lengths in order to openly discuss racism in the broader community as well as the Jewish community itself. This is where his writing will resonate and shock the reader most. Will his readers be able to accept how truly racist the world can be and has been to even a most eloquent and sincere African-American man? Adams, a psychologist by profession, makes himself truly vulnerable in this memoir and we are the awed beneficiaries of the risks he takes.

But not to worry, the book is not all vulnerability and risktaking. There is plenty of fodder about Israel that will evoke smiles and “Oh yeah, me too,” sentimentality. There is also a story here about an athiest who turns to G-d. If anything, this remarkable memoir will definitely go far in changing that staid old Woody Allen stereotype about New York Jews because Adams is, truly, nothing if not a New York Jew. Like myself, he is a Jew of two diasporas.

In case you missed it, read The Jerusalem Post review by Samuel Freedman here:
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