Boston Globe reporter Tye’s previous book was a biography of the founder of public relations (The Father of Spin, 1998)—and this look at seven Jewish communities suggests that there is a certain p.r. hangover lingering in his head.
The author offers yet another take on the multi-millennial dilemma of the Jewish people, scattered throughout the world, yet seeking a homeland. His thesis: that the Diaspora is no longer a temporary state to be exchanged for a life in Israel but, rather, “Jews who are forever rooted in Israel . . . no longer need to live there . . . the diaspora [is] . . . the reality of today and tomorrow.” To illustrate this idea, he examined the state of the Jewish communities in seven cities—Düsseldorf, Dnepropetrovsk, Boston, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Paris, and Atlanta. He found many reasons to rejoice, despite current demographic studies to the contrary. The German-Jewish community is the fastest growing in the world, and Düsseldorf recently became the first city in the country to surpass its pre-Holocaust Jewish population. Atlanta and Boston are apparently finding new ways of doing outreach to Jews whose attachment to their faith seems to be flagging. Even Dublin, whose Jewish community now numbers fewer than a thousand, gives Tye reason to exult: the Jews there are leaving Ireland, not Judaism. Home Lands is relentlessly upbeat. No tragedy lacks an upside, every pogrom strengthens somebody’s faith—and any definition of Jewish identity will suffice. The historical analysis on display is strictly Sunday supplement stuff, the evidence either anecdotal or the self-serving spin-doctoring of Tye’s sources. Moreover, this study is riddled with generalizations that are so broad as to be either meaningless or dangerously misleading (as in his characterization of the Reform movement’s ideology in the Atlanta chapter). And he offers assertions that are patently absurd, such as the notion that Atlanta somehow is the only Jewish community in the US where Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbis talk to one another (a misapprehension that grows out of his inability to distinguish between Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox). This will be a revelation to the New York Board of Rabbis, among others.
An opportunity wasted.