DIASPORA: An Inquiry into the Contemporary Jewish World by Howard M. Sachar
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DIASPORA: An Inquiry into the Contemporary Jewish World

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Sachar has no match as a popular chronicler of modern Jewish history, and with reason: this is a description of pre- and post-Holocaust Jewish life around the world, starting with Germany (and excluding only Israel, the US, and Canada), that is precisely informative, selectively detailed, and revealingly, involvingly personalized. (First to appear in Sachar's peripatetic company--""in his comfortable, tastefully furnished"" Geneva apartment--is Gerhart Riegner, word-bringer of the Holocaust: the now-and-once motif is a constant.) More than any other factor, Israeli statehood proves to be the bedrock of postwar Jewish identity; yet, Sachar notes, Israelis, like their predecessor Zionists and earlier religious Jews, continue to downgrade Diaspora Jewry. Insofar as he has a message, it's the vitality of Disaspora communities past and present, by infusions from the surrounding cultures, and their diversity: at polar opposites here, for instance, are a convivially intercultural Stockholm m‚nage of Sachar's acquaintance (where non-Jewish ex-wives and widows wear Hebrew/Star of David pendants) and the handful of chuetas, Majorcan Jews converted to Catholicism in the 15th century, who turned up in 1965 for Majorca's first Jewish service since the Inquisition. The big stories include of course Germany--and the role of indemnifications payments in fostering not only Israel's economic growth, but the revival of Jewish communal life in Western Europe; France--and the split between militant young Jews and the circumspect Rothschild-led elite over responses to anti-Semitism; and, in a three-chapter saga, the Soviet Union--where Sachar recounts the ""sequence of blows to Jewish pride and security"" and the ensuing ""Jewish self-assertion,"" since the Stalin era. . . winding up with the emigration of non-""persecutees"" to the US (instead of Israel). That still-touchy episode, with its adverse reflections on American Jewish agencies, is balanced--if that word applies in such a scramble of motivations and circumstances--by the life-saving rescue of numerous Syrian Jews by Brooklyn congressman Stephen Solarz and his executive assistant (a woman in her late sixties who's blind, Sachar writes quietly). Then there is the case of Jacobo Timerman: ""Despite the man's flamboyance, his well-developed ego. . . his trivialization of the Holocaust by a disingenuous equation of Argentine Jews with European Jews under the Nazis--despite all these lapses and excesses, Timerman could not be dismissed in his exposure of Argentine Jewish leadership."" A fascinating blend, in toto, of history and journalism and commentary--which concludes only that numbers are declining, communities are both dying out and coming to life.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1985
Publisher: Harper & Row