BEING JEWISH IN AMERICA: The Modern Experience by Arthur Hertzberg

BEING JEWISH IN AMERICA: The Modern Experience

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It isn't easy, in the long run it may not be possible, and Rabbi Hertzberg has no conviction as to how it might be managed; but he has strong ideas of what Jews shouldn't do if they wish to retain their identity--to go on being Jewish--in America. A veteran of the school desegregation battle in Englewood, N.J., where he has long served the Conservative congregation, and also of the split between organized Judaism and black militants in the late Sixties, he is opposed to Jews ""doing non-sectarian things""--supporting civil rights or social welfare--""under Jewish auspices."" To be all good things to all deserving people is, for the Jewish community, to commit suicide. A lifelong Zionist and past-president of the American Jewish Congress, he laments the ""centrality"" of Israel for American Jews; it has given them zest and gained them respect, but at a price: ""So long as the inner life is almost totally externalized in political and fundraising activities, with a passion for Israel at their center, assimilation will grow by the very side of their prodigious labors."" These are questions that have agitated American Jews for years; the present essays, written between 1953 and 1978, serve ably to sum up one prominent non-Orthodox position, the belief that Jews in an open society must remain unique: ""the essence of Judaism is the affirmation that Jews are the chosen people."" Their weakness as a group stems from the very lack of ""content"" which Hertzberg decries in Americsn Jewish life; one has no sense of the potency of traditional Judaism as One does, for instance, in Lucy Dawidowicz' The Jewish Presence (1977). These pieces, intelligent, reasonable, sometimes stimulating, belong to the realm of forum discussion.

Pub Date: Jan. 31st, 1978
Publisher: Schocken