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May 11, 1990 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-05-11

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ley 144044

Is There A Resurgence
In U.S. Jewish Life?

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I have a friend
in his 30s who
was excited
when he heard
about the new
Steinsaltz trans-
lation of the Tal-
I ,,/ mud in English.
He's never studied Talmud,
my friend, and he rushed out
to buy a copy. When I spoke
to him the next day and ask-
ed him if he'd taken a look at
it, he said he was exhausted.
"I stayed up all night last
night to finish it."


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FRIDAY, MAY 11, 1990


To me, that episode
underlines some of the
positive and negative cur-
rents in the American Jew-
ish community today. Be-
cause in this age of im-
mediacy, there is no quick
fix. The Talmud is to be liv-
ed, not read.
So as part of a panel ex-
ploring the question, The
Resurgence of the American
Jewish Community: Fact or
Fantasy?, I cited that inci-
dent. The symposium was
held two weeks ago at
Brandeis University in
Waltham, Mass., and was
moderated by author
William Novak.
I suggested that the good
news about the Steinsaltz
story is that it indicates
there are numbers of Jews
out there seeking connec-
tions to their Jewish
heritage. But the bad news
is that they have so far to go.
And the worst news is that
most Jews don't care.
One of the other two
panelists, Mark Seal, exec-
utive vice president of the
Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
was more upbeat.
A resident of Manhattan
in his late 30s, he noted a
new vibrancy in the syn-
agogue communities of the
West Side where he observes
a baby boom and "an in-
credible return to religion."
Once dormant large syn-
agogues have been revitaliz-
ed by new members, and
beginners minyanim are ad-
dressing a demand for Jew-
ish ritual instruction among
These younger Jews are
motivated by a search for
community, for themselves
and their children, according
to Seal. And though they are
less affiliated with or
attached to Israel, they are
interested in pluralism and
the concept of Jews of cliff-

erent ideologies recognizing
and dealing with each other.
The other panelist, Ber-
nard Hyatt, editor and
publisher of the Jewish Ad-
vocate of Boston, took note of
the positive signs in Ameri-
can Jewish life, including
adult Jewish education. But
he said that the masses are
still under-educated and the
organized community is
money-oriented, honoring
the wealthy giver rather
than the serious scholar.
I tried to present a bal-
anced view, noting the
pluses and minuses in Jew-
ish life in terms of education,
spiritual life, and the com-
munal agenda, and sug-
gested that we have a long
way to go before we can pat
ourselves on the back.
Rabbi Steinsaltz says his
educational efforts are based
on the concept of Let My
People Know, which of
course is admirable. But
based on my friend's experi-
ence, and countless others,
American Jewry could
become the first Jewish
community in history to
seek to become true scholars

Adin Steinsaltz:
Talmud translator.

without knowing the Heb-
rew language (and certainly
not Aramaic). So amidst the
explosion of books on Jewish
topics, one can worry about
who is reading them and
what they are coming away
Is this situation different
than 10 or 20 years ago? Has
it ever been different?
One of the most notable
developments of the last few
years has been an increasing
distancing between Ameri-
can Jews and Israel. Various
polls have shown that many
American Jews, particularly
those under the age of 40,
have become more dis-
engaged from Israel of late.
They think of Israel as a
given, a historical reality,
rather than a fragile,
Continued on Page 24

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