When Theodore Ross moved with his newly divorced mother and brother to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi at age 9, the family pretended not to be Jewish. This deceit was his mother’s idea, and years later it led Ted to question whether he should consider himself a Jew at all, having been discouraged from embracing any religious identification as a young person. In recent years, the desire to answer that question led him to seek out other Jews who are outliers in some way, from crypto-Jews in the Southwest, to the “lost tribe” Ethiopian Jews now resettled in Israel, to ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who welcome him into their homes for Shabbat.
Ross writes about these journeys in Am I a Jew? Lost Tribes, Lapsed Jews, and One Man’s Search for Himself. He joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to talk about why his mother demanded that he hide his religious identity, what it was like pretending not to be entirely himself, and why he chose to spend time with non-mainstream Jews as a way to re-engage with what being Jewish might mean for him. [Running time: 18:50.]