The Arty Semite

Author Blog: Revisions for the Paperback

By Theodore Ross

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Earlier this week, Theodore Ross wrote about the Manhattan eruv. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I found my first error in my book in this sentence in the introductory chapter, “Hidden Jew”: “My stepfather [Randy]…knew from very early on that my mother was Jewish. His rather conservative family didn’t, and they still don’t.”

This was, to the best of my knowledge, true at the time of my writing it. There is, in fact, a later, and longer, passage in the book devoted to this very subject: namely, that my mother was so proud about my success as a writer that she couldn’t help telling her family and friends in Mississippi about it — but she was so committed to keeping her Judaism a secret that she never told them what the book was about. (I’ve written about this online in some detail. Please read here to see what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, I recently returned from a family trip to Mississippi, where the discussion of the book was very much a dinner table topic. My step-grandmother, Anne, a wonderful woman with whom I’ve always had a great, if-not-entirely-frank, relationship, chimed in with this over our red beans and rice:

“I suppose it’s time to let the cat out of the bag,” she said, hushing everyone. “Right after your mother and Randy fell in love” — when I was about 12 or 13, or around 1986 — “he said, ‘Now, Mom, she doesn’t want anyone to know she’s Jewish. So don’t say anything.’”

There were a couple of implications here. First, our circumspection, or downright lying, through the years had been for nothing — they had known we were Jewish. What’s more — and no one said this, but it was implied — they had known without our saying a thing, assuming it somehow from our manner, appearance, and attitudes. Which is a little discomfiting, but still amusing from where I sit. As I have always said to my mother whenever she tries on a bit of a southern accent: “Ma, you can take the girl outta Queens. But you can’t take the Queens outta the girl.”


Theodore Ross is the author of “Am I a Jew?: Lost Tribes, Lapsed Jews, and One Man’s Search for Himself.” His writing has appeared in the pages (print and electronic) of the New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, the Atlantic, Tablet, Saveur, Tin House, and a variety of other journals and newspapers. He is also the articles editor of Men’s Journal magazine.


The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the reading, writing and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books and book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history and more.


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