Emily Raboteau’s Searching for Zion takes listeners around the world on an unexpected adventure of faith. Both one woman’s quest for a place to call “home” and an investigation into a people’s search for the Promised Land, this landmark work is a trenchant inquiry into contemporary and historical ethnic displacement.
At twenty-three, Raboteau traveled to Israel to visit her childhood best friend. While her friend appeared to have found a place to belong, Raboteau couldn’t say the same for herself. As a biracial woman from a country still divided along racial lines, she’d never felt at home in America. But as a reggae fan and the daughter of a historian of African-American religion, Raboteau knew of Zion as a place black people yearned to be. She’d heard about it on Bob Marley’s Exodus and in the speeches of Martin Luther King. She understood it as a metaphor for freedom, a spiritual realm rather than a geographical one. In Israel, the Jewish Zion, she was surprised to discover black Jews. Inspired by their exodus, Raboteau sought out other black communities that had left home in search of a Promised Land. Her question for them is the same she asks herself: have you found the home you’re looking for?
On her ten-year journey back in time and across the globe, through the Bush years and into the age of Obama, Raboteau wanders through Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana, and the Southern United States to explore the complex and contradictory perspectives of “black Zionists.” She talks to Rastafarians and African Hebrew Israelites, Evangelicals and Ethiopian Jews, and Hurricane Katrina transplants from her own family — people who have risked everything in search of territory that is hard to define and harder to inhabit.
In Searching for Zion, Raboteau overturns our ideas of place and patriotism, displacement and dispossession, citizenship and country in a disarmingly honest and refreshingly brave take on the pull of the story of exodus.