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Julius Lester: Activist, Folklorist, Children’s Book Writer,, Photographer, Scholar, Mensch

By January 20, 2018May 13th, 2021The Kerlan Blog



Obituaries are Odd Things

When I had heard that Julius Lester had died, for the next day I searched obsessively for remembrances and obituaries. FaceBook of course but I wanted national news to recognize and shout out our enormous loss. “Attention must be paid.” I thought.

Here was a man, who through Facebook was able to read my despair and provide comfort. He said over and over, all is not lost. His essay , We Shall Overcome, expressed the anger and sorrow I had over my government’s actions. He put words to my feelings.

Most of all, I believed him when he wrote, 

“Focusing on what I do have leads to joy, and joy is to embrace one’s self and others with energy that affirms life.

This is what these times call for – the joyous affirmation of all that is good and decent in us as we wait patiently for the day when all that is good and decent will also be expressed in public policy.”

And to my relief and comfort, attention was paid. And not just cutting and pasting. News. Research. Original thought. I was touched to read pieces in the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and the Jewish Telegraph Agency.

My favorite one was by Margalit Fox , Julius Lester, Chronicler of Black America, is Dead at 78. She had captured his wide ranging interests, his fire, and his compassion.

I am not cutting and pasting pieces here. Go to The New York Times for the best and most unique picture of Julius Lester and read the article whole.

36 Righteous Ones

From the vague memories of Hebrew school, I remember the stories of the righteous men. A little googling will get you a phrase “36 righteous ones “Lamed Vav(niks)  My childhood memory was of men. I am pleased to see “righteous ones.”

The Talmud says, that it is said that at all times there are 36 special people in the world, and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end. The two Hebrew letters for 36 are the lamed, which is 30, and the vav, which is 6. Therefore, these 36 are referred to as the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim. This widely-held belief, this most unusual Jewish concept is based on a Talmudic statement to the effect that in every generation 36 righteous “greet the Shekhinah“, the Divine Presence (Tractate Sanhedrin 97b; Tractate Sukkah 45b)

So weird that in my non-religious brain, Julius Lester has been bubbling up connected with this random idea from religious school fifty years ago.

More from Wikipedia,   “The lamed-vavniks do not themselves know that they are ones of the 36. In fact, tradition has it that should a person claim to be one of the 36, that is proof positive that they are certainly not one. Since the 36 are each exemplars of anavah, (“humility”), having such a virtue would preclude against one’s self-proclamation of being among the special righteous. The 36 are simply too humble to believe that they are one of the 36.[1]”

That’s what I  remembered. And today I think, why wouldn’t Julius Lester be counted among those 36?

Right now, I am feeling the loss of so many. Amy Rosenthal, Vera B. Williams, Anna Dewdney, Jill McElmurry.

So, the world doesn’t end with the loss of Julius Lester. It just feels that way.

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