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January 31, 1986 - Image 36

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-01-31

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if9FJ vans;
36 Friday, January 31, 1986



A New Way Of Looking
At The Jewish


Special to The Jewish News

Sociologist Egon Mayer says
he and his colleagues can
serve in a much-needed
role: 'insider-outsider'

One of the implicit messages that Brook-
lyn College sociologist Egon Mayer sends
in his book, Love & Tradition: Marriage
Between Jews & Christians, is that suc-
cessful marriages, and particularly those
between Jews and Christians, depend sig-
nificantly on the ability of both partners to
bring clear self-images to the union.
In other words, people ought to know
themselves well before they venture on the
stormy seas of matrimony, and especially
when those waters are complicated by the
shoals of differing ethnic and religious
The problem, said Mayer recently during
an interview in his uptown Manhattan
apartment, is that the Jewish community
has become so diffuse, and the Jew so
vague about his place either in the ethnic
group or the society as a whole, that Jews
no longer understand themselves in terms
of a specific identity.
Modern technology and mass communi-
cations have contributed heavily to the pro-
blem. "There are no insular communities
any more," said the 41-year-old president
of the Association for the Sociological
Study of Jewry. "And mass media make
all cultures equally accessible to one
The whole social structure has changed,
and along with it, so have individuals'
mechanisms for coping with their lives.
Take rabbis, for instance.
"In the best of all worlds," said Mayer
in his faintly Hungarian-tinged New York
accent (he was born in Switzerland, brought
up in Budapest and educated in Brooklyn),
"they should lead and inspire and repre-
sent. Historically they are also interpreters
of the situation of Jews in the world, I
think they are rapidly losing that role be-
cause they just don't have the knowledge
base and the skills to have their fingers on
the pulse of the community. And lay leader-
ship doesn't have them either.
"In the past you had the lay leader, the
wealthy, powerful individual who was out
there in the community and knew what was
going on in the minds and hearts of the
'goyim.' I think that's changing, because
lay leaders tend to be in corporate struc-
tures where they're too narrowly special-
ized to know what's going on in the world.
"And that's where I think the social
scientist becomes important."
Mayer believes that sociologists, who
have taken over the function of philoso-
phers as interpreters of reality, are assum-
ing a new position in the American Jewish
"It is,'.' he explained, "the position of the
insider-outsider who is trusted to have com-
mitments to the future of the community,
but who, at the Bathe time, has observation
skills and a certain willingness to criticize."
Something like a sage? Mayer fiddled
with an unlit corncob pipe. His spacious,
white-walled apartment reflected the soci-
ologist's deliberate, outgoing personality.

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