James Wallace

Interview with 
James F. Wallace,
author of Sojourn,
an autobiographical novel

by Daphne Drohobyczer

What did you study at SUNY-Buffalo and how did it influence your life?
I ‘majored’ in German for undergrad (BA) and Linguistics for grad school (MA).
My majoring in German was by default. I had taken evening classes at Nassau Community College in Garden City Long Island NY. I lived in the village of Hempstead NY.

I took the entrance exam for UB passed and was accepted as a German Major. I had thoughts of going to Med School. German was considered ‘the’ scientific language. I did well enough in my courses to pursue German instead of medicine. Also, as most of my peers were taking Spanish or French, I chose to be diff rent. But I came to realize, as noted in “Sojourn...” “I sometimes think I’m guided by a Divine Spirit... I was born on a Saturday-Terumah as G-D entered Tent of Meeting with Israelites on Terumah. My Bar Mitzvah would have been on Tetzaveh Zohar the Sabbath when we are decreed to remember Amalek and the Sabbath before Purim as we stamp out Hamman. I knew of the holocaust.

The times and my comrades during the times influenced me: The Sixties, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, World Conflicts, the Vietnam War; Keep Biafra Alive! Attica Is All Of died Us! No To Vietnam! And On and On...
Participated in a journalism workshop. Wrote for school papers: The Spectrum and the Midnight Oil. Had a column: As I Please! Emulating George Orwell. A lecture by noted journalist William Worthy’s suggestion and comments of Orwell’s essay, “Shooting An Elephant,” drew me into the psychic of the oppressor and oppressed peoples.

I fell in, loved and learned from blacks, Jews, Poles, Foreign students’ peoples of all races and creed on campus. But mainly, Blacks and Jews. I relate these times as Purgatory U in “Sojourn...” We all were seeking the Truth... The Truth really does make one free in mind, body and spirit. I thought I was just trying to find myself but was indeed seeking G-D...

2. How did you meet your Jewish girl friend. And how did it play a role in your conversion to Judaism?
I was attracted to mainly, Southern African American girls and Yankee New York Jewesses. The Jewish girls reminded me of my grandmother who with my mother raised me.

I met Diane at a college bar called the “Beef and Ale”. The owner I noticed at one point had a number tattoo on his arms. Turns out he (Jack) was a survivor of the Holocaust concentration camps. Jack always seemed to look out for me.
Diane grew-up at 314 Cleveland. My area code for St Louis was 314. My sponsoring Rabbi for my conversion in New York was from Cleveland Ohio. On the day of my Bet Din, my Rabbi’s father was being murdered in Cleveland.
I note in Sojourn the Hebrew language is read right to left is review. Left to right is the righteous movement of Jah people to Zion-the land of G-D.
I only became aware of the void in my life as I was filling it. “We become aware of the void as we fill it...”

Diane placed a Mezuzah around at one point. I had long before discorded the Catholic medallion I had worn after 1968.
I went up to Buffalo seeking Truth. And came down with a Mezuzah, thanks to Diane’s blessing. Three years later I received the revelation-I am a Jew.

3. Where were you and what were you doing during the Vietnam War?
I was on Long Island from 1964 after my honorable discharge from the Air Force. In 1965 Vietnam Conflict escalated. Congress never declared war. President Lyndon Baines Johnson ran on platform of not seeking war in Asian lands. In 1965 Johnson escalated US involvement in Vietnam sending some 500, 000 troops there.
I began to question the war when questions began to reach my conscience from antiwar movement. By 1968, I fully questioned the Vietnam war and joined the Movement to put an end to it.

Posted “As I Please” Column in 1970, “US Nixon’s Rubicon...” as Nixon invaded Cambodia. “What price peace? Richard Milhaus Nixon extends a Democratic Christian like Crusade to Cambodia...He seeks no wider war. Only the communist allegedly embedded there...” Then Kent State Happened... Trying times...

4. To what do attribute your persona as a Liberal Democrat?
I try to follow the mitzvah/ decree of Deuteronomy: Justice! Justice, Shall You Pursue!...

I follow any movement whose creed seeks to fulfill these aims. If Liberal Democrat best meets the Justice creed then so be it. Israel means “One who strives with G-D or Champion of G-D". I am Israeli. My Rabbi gave me the name Yeshayehu Ben Avaraham, I.e. Isaiah son of Abraham. G-D Saves. I strive for justice for all. It is the poor and oppressed who most need G-D. I continue, the struggle continues, on a peaceful non-violent sojourn to justice.

5. How do you explain the fact you are a Zionist?
I am a Jew! Out of Zion shall go the Torah! If I am to be labeled, I would consider myself to be a Menachem Begin Zionist. Begin was here when I became woke, receiving the answer to the Question Why? Mark Twain once said: The two most important events in one’s life are: One- Being born. Two- Discovering the reason why you were born. I now know why!

6. How did you come up with the title, “Sojourn…” for your book about your life?
I chose Sojourn as a title as a chronicle of my time and space seeking the Truth: Movement to Ultimate Paradise in the Moment. What happened…How I myself found, was guided to the Truth, a diary on the struggle to get there…

7. Who and what influenced you most in life?
What influenced me most my awakening, “Awokeness”, Revelation that I am a Jew. Many people, the folks I “hung out with”, comrades, friends, lovers, of ever stripe and kin, teachers, professors, my grandmother, mother, and G-d parents, comrades-black, white, Jews. Foreign students, the music of the Jah People, Movement Music writings, poets’ poetry, Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scot Heron, Smokey Robinson. The group-the Cool Sounds and other talented singing groups of St Louis and on and on Carol King, Laura Nyro, Aretha Franklin- I absorbed the messages of their music and Psalms…Richard Wright, George M James, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Jesus Christ, Abba Eban, Father O’Conner, the Rev John Williams, MLK, Malcolm X, Angela Davis Rabbi Abraham Megenci are but a few who come to mind…

How did you end up in St Louis?
I was born here. Looking back, I recall a ship called St Louis loaded with Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe in 1939. The Jews were denied entrance to the United States. Many died in concentration camps. I was marked before birth…I remember and never forget any sign of the times. Never forget or recognize any Amalek of these times…
I left St Louis after I graduated from Soldan High School. My first two years were at Sumner High School.

Went to NYC after my honorable discharge from the Air Force on my grandmother birthdate March 13, 1964. Arrived in NYC on Easter Sunday 1964. Back in St Louis 1975 to 1979 after receiving degrees from UB. Returned to Hempstead Long Island NY 1979 to 1986. Back to St Louis 1986 after passing of my mother in 1986.

8. Please sum up your experience as a journalist?
I started reporting as a student at UB as already noted school papers: The Spectrum and the Midnight Oil. !986 wrote for Northside Journal, the St Louis Argus, Take Five, East St Louis Monitor, etc. Witnessed up close and reported on the human condition, trends, culture, education. Reviewed critiqued plays, concerts, politics, etc. Found things are not always as they seem to be, sometimes its even worst than one could imagine.

9. What did you observe was happening around you as a journalist?
As previously answered: Observed human condition, its pathos and ups and downs, arts; roads taken and not taken, stuff on dark side never reaching print or reported. Some reporters die under mysterious circumstances that inside reporters know about but choose not to be mortars for reporting on certain evil deeds done in the public interest. Telling the truth doesn’t always shame the devil. It could get you literally killed. Witnessed the downsizing of journalism as we become bombarded with information-misinformation that is. There is a “Media Monopoly” as Ben Bagdikian reports in his book of the same name. A monopoly on what we are to think based on the skewed biased information we receive. Media sets tempo for our daily thoughts. People read less, think less critically and are less informed.

How do you spend your time these days?
Reading, writing, watching too much television. Keeping the faith, going to Shul, keeping my eyes on the prize on my continuing sojourn to Zion. Staying ‘Prayed-UP’ as my G-D mother always admonished… 


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