LOST JEWS: The Struggle for Identity Today by Emma Klein

LOST JEWS: The Struggle for Identity Today

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A narrow examination of the conflicting concepts of identity shared by the masses of marginal Jews. The limitations for American Jewry of this interview-laden study of estranged Jews and those of patrilineal Jewish descent (according to Jewish law, descent is matrilineal) begin with its author and setting. Klein is a British journalist who speaks most and best about the problems of British and European Jews, many of which are irrelevant to American readers who live in a less stratified, less formally Christian, and Jewishly more varied society. Klein is disturbed that diaspora Jewry consists of a large periphery surrounding a narrow, insular core. While she makes clear that more must be done to make that core an attracting, rather than a repelling magnet, too many of the voices here are unconnected outsiders venting criticism about a system they don't have a clue about. Most mysterious to Klein is the way lost Jews with matrilineal links are immediately accepted, while patrilineal and potential converts are held up to a higher standard of practice. Klein would like to see a quick reintegration ceremony for all lost Jews for whom waving a membership card would satisfy their quest for Jewishness. Those interviewees without a grain of spiritual or cultural ties often come off as boring (or expendable), including a few celebrities like chess champion Garry Kasparov, whose mother is Armenian and his father Jewish, and the poet Allen Ginsberg. The book's main appeal is the respondents' diversity, with a pagan who likes the paganism of Judaism, a Messianic Jew who values anti-paganism, and an Israeli couple who ""hate so much the Jewish faith because it controls all the areas of life."" The author herself describes ""new joys which have affirmed my sense of Jewishness,"" although these joys are all merely aesthetic or culinary. This collection of identity conflicts seems to be struggling for its own identity.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 1996
Page count: 266pp
Publisher: St. Martin's