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Julius Lester

Wednesday, December 1, 2021 (Rabbi Calvin Dox-DaCosta)

Julius Lester was born in St. Louis in 1939 and was the son of a Methodist minister, although he learned early on in his life that his mother’s grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Germany. Lester graduated college with a degree in English and moved to Mississippi in 1964 where he began working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (or SNCC) as head of its photography department. Through his lens or on the written page, Julius Lester was committed to portraying the history of black Americans—past and present.

In his first book about race, “Look Out, Whitey!,” Lester wrote: “The world of the black American is different from that of the white American. The difference comes not only from the segregation imposed on the black man but from the very nature of blackness and its evolution under segregation.”

In 1981, Lester said, he had a vision: “I was a Jew…there was a yarmulke on my head, and I was dancing, and I was filled with incredible joy.” Lester converted the next year. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1992, Lester spoke of knowing both “the pain of a Jew when confronted with black anti-Semitism and the pain of a black person when confronted with Jewish racism.” Julius Lester was a man of many passions who never shied away from bringing attention to issues of race and religion.

As we light our candles for this fourth night of Chanukah, let us draw inspiration from Julius Lester, author of children’s and adult books, educator, photographer, musician, civil rights activist, Jew.

Happy Chanukah!

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