A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family
Stephen J. Dubner
William Morrow \& Company, $24, 320 pp.
Stephen Dubner and I met on the first day of graduate school and established a kind of friendship based on obvious likenesses. He was from upstate New York and so was I. We had both been messing around with music but now we were going to be serious about learning how to write. Neither of us had thought we would wind up at a fancy university, and we didn’t know whether to call attention to our surprise or keep quiet about it. And it gradually emerged that both of us were religious. I was a Catholic and Stephen was a-well, he wasn’t sure what he was, but he was animated, even agitated, by the question. He had been brought up Catholic, the youngest child in a big Catholic family. Before that, his parents had been Jews. Those days, he and his wife went to Episcopal services in Greenwich Village. What was he? And did it matter?
Judaism, the subtitle of his book suggests, is where he finds his answers. Really, though, Judaism is where he finds his questions. The big question turns out to be not What am I? but Who am I?, and the nearest thing to an answer he can give is the book itself. It is the story of his parents’ lives as Jews and their conversions to Catholicism during World War II. It is the story of their marriage and family life on a farm near Albany, a happy time until Stephen’s father died after having a stroke during a charismatic prayer service when Stephen was ten. Finally, it is the story of Stephen’s...