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Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community Paperback – November 2, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061561088
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061561085
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,490,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An assimilated Jew, journalist London (One Day the Soldiers Came) was shaken to learn that his thoroughly modern grandmother was born in a small, Orthodox, Yiddish-speaking community in Virginia. A reunion of this now-gone shtetl that had coexisted peacefully with its gentile neighbors inspired him to discover other Jewish communities in challenging circumstances that live peacefully with their gentile neighbors—which he rather simplistically opposes to Israel, whose violence in the West Bank and Gaza he deplores. In Rangoon, Burma, in the midst of a military crackdown, he wonders why the city's Jewish community is dying; in Iran, he finds a Jewish community not too worried about anti-Semitism, with a guaranteed seat in Parliament, 30 synagogues and six schools. In Cuba, London wonders whether Jews join the Jewish community more for spiritual connection or for perks like a government beef ration; in Bosnia, he finds an inclusive Judaism that gave back to society at large. Finally, Israel's powerful Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial makes London believe for the first time in the necessity of a Jewish state. While a sincere and soul-searching observer, London often comes across as politically naïve and admittedly ill-informed about Jewish history and rituals. Photos. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

Raised in a nonreligious Jewish family, Charles London knew hisheritage but had no strong desire to experience it personally. Thenin the summer of 2004, while doing relief work in Bosnia, he stumbled upon a remarkable community—where Jews worked alongside Muslims and Christians to rebuild a city ravaged by war. This encounter gave him the idea for a journey that would take him aroundthe world and back to his roots.

Far from Zion is the story of Jews in far-flung, often surprising places. Despite efforts by Israel to bring these scattered people home to Zion, they have chosen to remain in the lands of their birth: a shopkeeper selling Jewish trinkets in Iran, a caretaker keeping watch over an all-but-forgotten synagogue in Rangoon, revelers at a Hanukkah celebration in an Arkansas bowling alley, a Cuban engineering professor, proud of his Jewish heritage and prouder still of his Communist ideals. It is through their stories and many others that London examines his own identity, as he, too, struggles to come to terms with his connection to Zion.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Man of La Book on December 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Far from Zion" is more of a travelogue with insight than a straight-out story telling or novel. The author is a non-practicing Jew from Baltimore (who happens to be gay) who discovered that his grandmother was born in an Yiddish speaking community in ...Virginia?
That community has dissolved but Mr. London started his own personal search of what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. His travels take him to visit Jewish communities in Burma, Arkansas, New Orleans, Bosnia, Uganda, Iran, Cuba and finally Israel.

The Jewish communities he encounters are fascinating and probably deserve a book by their own right. From the community in Bosnia who is there to help all, to the one in Cuba where many join just for the material benefits. There are fascinating descriptions of communities which come together through struggle and hardship, only to build a better place for themselves and their neighbors.

Along the way Mr. London's inner struggle of his religious identity, traditions and his connection to Zion is a constant subtext in these stories. The author makes some personal and observational insights - some illuminating and some superficial as well as displaying a range of emotions towards Zionism - from understanding to hostility.

I always said that one's moral compass is in direct relationship with their distance from the problem. At one point Mr. London proves me right.

I found this book to very interesting, not so much from a historical angle but from the personal and intimate journey of discovery that the author makes along the way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M4 on April 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I just happened to pick this up at the library, intrigued by the title and jacket information, and expected to browse lightly and return. Imagine my surprise when I found it immensely readable and dropped everything else to finish it. It is the sincere spiritual journey made by an assimilated and secularly raised member of Generation X as he visits far flung Jewish communities across the globe. Overall, this is a very good read. I'm a bit older, but can certainly relate to the sense of trying to find true meaning in the over the top Bar Mitzvah celebrations and the sense of having to step away from the Jewish experience as he knew it, in this case, the abundance of such experiences in the Northeast of the US, to truly find and appreciate his Jewish identity. London traverses diverse and unexpected Jewish communities throughout the world, and gives a vivid account of the personalities and peculiarities of their political, geographic and social makeup. It is fascinating to experience Jewish life in Uganda, Arkansas and Iran for example. I throughly enjoyed the author's sincere interest and observations of these disparate communities and how different his experience has been in lively suburban American Jewish communities. I did, however, have difficulty with his presumption that the reader shares his particular political point of view regarding Israel. I too, share questions and concerns, but I felt that his agenda in this regard was naive and heavy handed and as a result, distracting. Overall, however, this is a very good read for anyone interested in exploring Jewish identity and practice with a view of Judaism in some very unexpected places.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Barry Kessler on February 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I grabbed this book off a public library new title shelf and couldn't put it down. I found the descriptions of unusual Jewish communities around the world to be journalistically skilled and astute, and I appreciated London's weaving in of his personal quest for Jewish identity. As one who started off from a very different Jewish background but ended up in a similar place, I thought London's commentary into the nature of community, tzedakah, nationalism, ritual, pilgrimage, and diaspora to be insightful and thought-provoking. I plan to present this book at my congregation's next book club meeting, and I would recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by offbeat Jewish communities in odd parts of the world and to any questioning and reflective Jew trying to find a place within the Jewish world.
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More About the Author

After dying his hair green during stint as an exchange student in Berlin in High School,Charles London moved from his hometown of Baltimore, to New York City. By then he knew, he suffered from insatiable wanderlust. During the summer of 2001, he began working with the advocacy organization, Refugees International, doing the research that would become his first book, One Day The Soldiers Came (Perennial, 2007), based on his experience with children affected by armed conflict around the world. What he thought would be a summer of work, turned into five years of research and writing, meeting young people all over the globe who were surviving the ravages of modern wars. He held a lot of odd jobs to support himself between research trips--working as an after-school program coordinator, an assistant to a talent agent, and a young adult librarian in the New York Public Library.


When the opportunity came to write his second book, he was reminded of a remarkable group of young people he met in Bosnia, who were part of an interfaith summer camp run by the Jewish community of Sarajevo. Inspired by the story of that community's survival, he set out for a year of visiting other Jewish communities around the globe who were defying the odds of history, geography, and politics. Through this journey, he discovered a Jewish spirituality and sense of place he had never before felt, and deepened his commitment to peace and reconciliation. The result is Far From Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community, which was a Finalist for the 2009 National Jewish Book Awards.