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Review of Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family
by Stephen J. Dubner. William Morrow. 288 pp. $24.00
The great Judaic scholar Maimonides once wrote to a disciple that the lineage of a born Jew goes back to our ancestors, while the lineage of a ger or a convert is directly traceable to God. Stephen Dubner is in the unusual and privileged position of claiming both ancestries. The son of Jewish converts to Catholicism, his journey back to Judaism has been both a returnee's reclamation of faith as well as a convert's resounding declaration of belief.
Mr. Dubner's fascinating memoir, a stylish melding of personal impressions and dogged research, stands as one of the seminal works in a new wave of memoirs about recouping Jewish identity and coming to terms with both its rigidity and fluidity. After Mr. Dubner's parents converted separately to Christianity as young adults, Solomon Dubner and Florence Greenglass were supplanted by Paul and Veronica Dubner. Both became enthusiastic Catholics who obliterated Judaism from their lives.
The youngest of eight children, Mr. Dubner grew up in a large dilapidated farmhouse in upstate New York that doubled as a virtual shrine to the Virgin Mary.
Mr. Dubner eventually headed south to college where he spent most of his time as a guitarist for a promising rock band. Music, however, was not his destiny and he soon found artistic satisfaction in writing. He settled in New York City where suddenly his surroundings became "a Rorschach blot, and the harder I looked, the more Jewishness I saw."
Seeing the world through Jewish eyes marks the beginning of Mr. Dubner's long, odd, but ultimately satisfying, odyssey. Among the milestones is Mr. Dubner's confrontation with the memory of the Holocaust as he pieces together his family's history on a trip to Poland. "...I tasted my first mouthful of Jewish rage. It was shocking to realize what I had become a part of. My mind was taking great leaps back and forth in time, huge conclusions brought about by the tiny details of the day. My parents' conversion had shielded me from this rage."
Experiencing this unique kind of Jewish passion leads Mr. Dubner to realize that "I had come to consider myself more a returnee [to Judaism] than a convert, as a returnee bore a certain weight of inevitability." Such is the power of the quiet revelations that distinguish Stephen Dubner's quest, and the book in which he chronicles those revelations.