Jake's Reviews > The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India

The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz
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's review
Jun 19, 2010

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bookshelves: buddhism, travel
Read from June 19 to 25, 2010

"The Jew in the Lotus" is the archetypal JuBu book, and since I am of Jewish extraction and interested in Buddhism, I felt I should read it. I was surprised to find that this isn't a story of one man's personal conversion from one religion to another. Instead, it's a fairly journalistic retelling of the first embassy of Jews to the Dalai Lama, in 1990. Kamenetz is a famous poet, and his writing is frequently lyrical- so much so that by the end I kind of had a headache from all the high-minded seriousness and authentic spiritual renewal he describes. I mean, in a book about a bunch of Jews who go to Dharmsala to meet the Dalai Lama, there should at least be a few jokes- doesn't that sound like a setup to a good one?

Aside from the travelogue, Kamenetz does a nice job describing the what each group can learn from the other. Briefly, the Jews have a lot to teach the Tibetans about maintaining a culture in exile, and the Tibetans have a lot to teach the Jews about renewing their exoteric religion with esoteric spiritualism. There are many similarities between the groups: an emphasis on scholarship, a respect for teachers, and a complex relationship between culture and religion. But there are also many differences, especially the most fundamental one, which is that Judaism is a religion firmly grounded in this imperfect world, which the Tibetans see as nothing but an illusion.

For fans of comparative religion, or Jews interested in the East, I'd recommend the book. For everyone else, you might be left wondering what all the fuss is about.
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