Nu York, New York: A Bronx (and Jewish) tale

I like graphic novels and books. I realize that many readers and critics are disdainful of illustrated books and consider them glorified comic books, but there is something special and expressive about a well-told novel or memoir, given the graphic treatment. One of my favorite graphic historical tales is Laika, a book about the dog that the Soviet Union sent into space. I even referred to this moving, provocative book when teaching a high school global history class.
A new graphic memoir is of special interest to people interested in New York City history, and even Jewish life. GHETTO BROTHER: Warrior to Peacemaker (NBM/ComicsLit) by Julian Voloj and Claudia Ahlering is a fascinating look at life in the hard-luck South Bronx of New York City, from the 1960s through recent years. We follow highlights of the life of Benjy Melendez, a poor Puerto Rican young man who is involved in a gang. But his story is not the typical brutal and violent thug-life tale.
Melendez observes from an early age that his parents are not practicing Roman Catholicism like all the other neighborhood families. His mom lights candles on Friday nights, his father dons a big shawl, they read the Old Testament on the weekend, and perform other atypical customs. As a young adult, after he helps to broker a truce between various minority group gangs in the South Bronx, he comes to realize that his family was secretly Jewish.
With that thought gripping him, he finds the one remaining and barely functioning synagogue in the region, the Intervale Jewish Center. He prays and learns with a group of older Jews as well as a few African American Jews. And there are illustrations of former synagogues in the Bronx that have been turned into churches.
This is of particular interest to me because I have written extensively about "lost synagogues" such as these, and featured dozens in my book The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011). I recognize several of these buildings in Ghetto Brother, and have been letting people know about this unusual confluence of subjects.
This wonderful book shows us that Jews come in a wide variety of ethnicities. Jews have many different stories and personal narratives. We as a people cannot be neatly shunted into narrow categories. Ponder that, amigo.