Search­ing for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora

  • Review
April 15, 2013

Search­ing for Zion opens with a search not unfa­mil­iar to many who have flown El Al, that intim­i­dat­ing exam­i­na­tion by air­line secu­ri­ty. Author Emi­ly Raboteau isn’t waved past after a few cut­ting glares and point­ed ques­tions. No, she’s tak­en down to the base­ment for a more thor­ough search. The addi­tion­al treat­ment is in part because she’s a twen­ty-some­thing with an atti­tude who mouths off to the guards, but it’s also because she doesn’t look like a typ­i­cal tourist to Israel. In fact, she doesn’t look typ­i­cal any­thing. With an Irish moth­er and an African-Amer­i­can father, Raboteau has a deep sense of not belong­ing any­where. This mem­oir is Raboteau’s search for home.

Raboteau starts her jour­ney by fol­low­ing her clos­est child­hood friend, Tamar Cohen, out of Dias­po­ra. Cohen made aliyah after col­lege, and now makes her home in Jerusalem. On the vis­it, Raboteau learns of Africans who also found a home­land in Israel, and she seeks them out on sub­se­quent vis­its. The sto­ries these Ethiopi­ans, Jamaicans, and African-Amer­i­cans tell are full of faith, loss and love, and many also feel the dis­place­ment Raboteau feels. But, none pro­vide a sat­is­fy­ing answer to her ques­tion, Where do I belong?”

Raboteau’s quest con­tin­ues through the places that Africans have fled from, or seek to flee from, or seek to flee to. The fol­low­ing sec­tions of the book trace Raboteau’s trav­els to Jamaica, Ethiopia, and Ghana, and even­tu­al­ly, the Deep South of the US, a place that has left deep scars on her father’s side of the family. 

Raboteau is a tal­ent­ed mem­oirist, and her writ­ing is con­sis­tent­ly engag­ing, hon­est, and wise. The jour­ney itself gives Raboteau the courage and for­ti­tude to embrace what she knew all along, and what Jews have med­i­tat­ed on every Passover for thou­sands of years. There is no easy path out of Dias­po­ra; home is much more than geography.

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