Parshat Behaalotecha, 5775

The Book that Changed the World

In 1958, Leon Uris published a book that transformed the Jewish world and changed the course of Jewish history.  Exodus!  Exodus is an odd book – a blend of Jewish history, emotional Zionism and soap opera fiction.  But this book, this 600 page novel, spoke to the hearts of millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world; it eventually equaled the sales of Gone With the Wind, and was translated into 50 languages.

For the handful of secret underground Zionists in Soviet Russia – the founding members of the Refusenik movement – Exodus was pure sustenance.  People who could barely speak English spent countless hours, slowly translating the book into Russian, and then secretly distributed copies to their friends and relatives.  The book spread like wildfire – copies proliferated everywhere, even among the Jewish political prisoners in the Soviet prison camps.  Thousands of Russian Jews wept over Exodus, late at night, under the cover of darkness.  And for so many of these Jews, Exodus was their gateway not only to Zionism, but to Judaism as well.

In America, Exodus was a phenomenon. In the late 50s and early 60s, it was nearly as common to find a copy of Exodus in American-Jewish households as it was to find the Bible – and there were plenty of Jewish homes that only had Exodus.  For many American Jews, Exodus was the source of their Jewish pride, at a time when Jews were still very uncertain of their place in American life.

A few years ago, I saw a one man off-Broadway show called Circumcise Me, by Yisrael Campbell.  Campbell, as you might have guessed, is a convert.  And how did his journey to […]