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September 06, 1985 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-09-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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24 Friday, September 6, 1985 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Brace Yourself

It takes guts to bring good news to
the Jewish community. Gloom plays
better; skepticism is safer.
Charles Silberman, former Fortune
magazine editor and author of the
bestsellers Crisis In Black and White
and Crisis In The Classroom,
challenges point after point of
pessimistic attitudes about the
future of American Jewry in his new
book, A Certain People: American

Jews and Their Lives Today.

Silberman hasn't simply donned a
pair of rose-colored glasses. He has
assembled the most up-to-date body
of research and statistical data
available on the American Jewish ex-
perience. And what he sees doesn't
disPlease him — although his view
may upset some members of the
Jewish establishment who have built
their careers on panicky projections.
'Dire predictions of the imminent
demise of American Jewry, based on
reportedly drastic incieases in the
rates of intermarriage and assimila-
tion, says Silberman, are exag-
gerated. Numbers that are routinely
bandied about, he points out, are bas-
ed on faulty studies.
'the 'qiiipPoeedly
plummeting Jewish birthrate are un-
founded, according to Silberman.
Widely quoted demographic projec-
tions were based on incomplete
statistics and a poorly understood
"quirk" in marital behavior in the
1970s, he says.
'Fear of a significant escalation of
American anti-Semitism under pre-
sent conditions is irrational, says
Silberman. The entire structure of
American pluralis%n would need to
come unraveled for it to happen. Vir-
tually every occupation and almost
every position in America is now
open to Jews who can "deliver." On-
ly pockets of discrimination linger
against Jews, such as membership in
country clubs they wouldn't care to
join. Jews benefit as much as other
groups from, America's "public
religion" of mterreligious "civili-
ty."[A significant exception to the
general trend, though, exists among
•Third, fourth and fifth generation
American Jews are not deserting
Judaism, as was. widely pro-
gnosticated, says Silberman. In fact,
observance and affiliation rates have
A Jewish religious revival of
considerable dimensions is in pro-
gress. The Judaism.practiced by the
young today may not be identical to
that of their forebears, but at least
in many respects, Silberman rates it
-just as — or perhaps more r —

He holds no brief for nostalgic, ex-
aggerated myths of religious piety in

Chanukah candlelighting and High

Fot 'The


Special to The Jewish News

Holiday synagogue attendance.
Silberman's opinions about the
authenticity of some American
Jewish religious practices are likely
to arouse heated controversy about
his work in Jewish religious circles.

His forthright admission that he ap-
proves of Jews' continued adhere e
to the Democratic Party will enr e
those neo-conservatives who
arguing for a Jewish swing to the
right. His castigation of liberal
hypocrisy and absolutism in dealing
with church-state issues will likely
lose him friends on the left.
What will be hardest for his critics
will be to accuse Silberman of par-
ticular biases or prejudices. What
may, in fact, be the most refreshing
aspect of A Certain People is that it
is a thoughtful but entertaining ac-
count of American Jewry written by
a genuinely non-aligned, but
Jewishly-committed analyst.
In a recent interview, Silberman
admitted that he was anticipating —
with some relish — the furor that is
bound to arise over his book of good
news. The book was officially
scheduled for publication on
September 6 under the imprint of
Summit Books, but it had already
turned up in local bookstores early
this month. A Certain People is a
featured Book of the Month Club
alternate section, and the New York
Times Magazine purchased first
serial rights for a condensation.
Silberman is scheduled to travel to at

least 26 U.S. and Canadian cities to
promote his book. He can face his
critics armed, at the very least, with
the assurance of a publishing success

before theink has even dried on the


"the world of our fathers." He has
high regard for the contribution to
Judaism made by "Jews By Choice,"
as converts prefer to be called. And
while conscious of the narcissism evi-

dent among the young, he is impress-
ed with the depth of their commit-
ment to Judaism.
Of course different analysts can ex-
amine the same body of data and
reach markedly different conclusions.
Sociologist Nathan Glazer, writing
skeptically in the August edition of
CommentarY magazine about the
quality of Jewish identity today and
in the future, suggests, "...the Jews

will survive, yes, and perhaps even
continue to identify themselves ,as
Jews, but ... little in the way of
custom, belief or loyalty will be
assumed as a result of their identity
as Jews."
Glazer, in common with some other
critics, is less sanguine than Silber-
man about the capacity of Jews-By-

Choice to transmit what some call
"Jewish cosmic memory" to their off-
spring. He is also less impressed than
Silberman with the seriousness of
some forms of Jewish observance to-
. day, including Passover Seders with
little or no religious content,

Silberman is also secure because he
possesses the most up-to-dite polls,
statistics and supportive research on
American Jewry, especially the well-
designed studies (some still un-
published) of 15 cities in which about
65 percent of American Jews live.
His book — "written to be read as?
well as bought,'' as he puts it -- is not
very fat (only 366 pages), but it is
chock full of facts, quotes and
figures. His presentation is pleasant-
ly anecdotal, but backed by
meticulous and thorough research.
Silberman kept on postponing the
completion of A Certain People. One


problem arose in determining the
book's format. He intends it for Jews
and non-Jews alike, and for ordinary

readers and serious 'scholars. The
book is in three parts. The first sec-
tion deals with the transformation of
the position of Jews in American
society. Part Two addresses the im-
pact of the first set of changes on
. Judaism and Jewish communal life.

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