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March 06, 1992 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-03-06

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have to draw upon to respond to the loss
of job, the loss of parent or spouse or child,
or our own mortality? Who am I as Jew,
behind the locked doors, drawn drapes,
with my family? What songs do I sing,
what is my poetry? What stories do I tell?
What convictions do I own?
For public institutions, the problems,
targets, and agenda are public and outer-
directed. Out there young people are
caught up in Eastern and Christian cults;
out there mixed marriages, out there
assimilating Jews and unassimilable
Jewish immigrants proliferate. And if the
problems and target population are out
there in the public domain, then the solu-
tion lies in the public domain. The "out-
reach" metaphor is right. The direction is
It pays greater attention to external
symptoms than to internal causes, hearing
the echo as if it were the origin of the out-
cry, repairing the damage from without —
better institutions, better management,
more and better schools and camps and
temples and personnel.
Consider intermarriage, the issue that
engages so much interest in the Jewish
community. Consider the not atypical in-
stance of Susan, who has studied with rab-
bis, attended public classes, • religious
services, retreats. Susan is a Jew by choice,
moved by the shiver of Jewish history and
ritual symbolism, attracted to the non-
dogmatic character of Jewish theology and
the centrality of the Jewish home. She has
immersed herself in the waters of the
mikvah, passed the test of the Beth Din.
Now, at last, she is invited to her Jewish
in-laws-to-be on a Friday night. The home
is finely furnished, the table exquisitely
set. It is her first experience with Jews out-
side the public arena. Susan reports her
disappointment. The Sabbath evening was
far different from what her textbooks and
teachers had given her to believe.
It was an evening bereft of benediction,
no blessings over the candles or wine or
bread. She has been told of zemirot, the
Sabbath song around the table, the chant-
ing of grace after meals. But here are
songless, graceless Jews, with table talk as
pedestrian as the weekday dust.
No. The integration of Susan into the
Jewish family is not the problem. Neither
ethnic nor theological identification. The
problem is with the Jewish integration of
the family into Judaism.
What is Jewishly distinctive? What is
culture, faith, ritual choreography, par-
ticular wisdom, ethos, culture, faith, ritual
choreography? How is the Jewish home dif-
ferent from the middle-class home in

general? What do we have to say Jewishly
to Susan, who takes Jewishness to heart?
Thoreau, told about Morse's invention of
the telegraph, which would allow a man
from Maine to instantly send a message to
a man in Thxas, asked, "But what have
they to say to each other?" What have we
to say to Susan?
The problem is not out there. It is here.
The problem is not with Jews by choice;
but with Jews by genes. The problem is not
what does Susan, the proselyte-to-be see
in us, but what do the native born see in
themselves. The problem is not Susan, the
stranger in our midst, but the Jewish
estrangement of her husband-to-be and her
It is a self-deceptive projection to cast
the problems outward. Intermarriage is a
symptom that is treated as a cause of
Jewish weakness.
Hear the cry of Philip Roth, not his
alone, "What a Jewish child inherited was
no body of law; no body of learning, no
language and finally no Lord . . . . But what
he did receive was a psychology that can
be translated in three words: 'Jews are bet-
ter.' "
But in what sense better; better in what
respect according to which meanness of ex-
cellence? Better in the sense of Duddy
Kravitz or Sammy Glick?
Reach out — with whom?
Reach out — with what?
Reach out — from where?

Turning Inward

There can be no outreach without in-
reach. Public Jews and public institutions
have ignored the individual and his fami-
ly, neglected the private sector in Jewish
living. We have succumbed to Spinoza's
treatment of Judaism as nothing more
than a "social organization," a policy to
which we owe allegiance.
We have rejected Whitehead's statement
that "religion is what one does with one's
solitariness," by emphasizing only institu-
tional togetherness, only membership, on-
ly belonging. But public belonging without
private believing and private behaving is
like praising public forests without atten-
tion to private trees.
Heschel was right. "Unless a person
knows how to pray alone, he will remain in-
capable of praying with the congregation."
No public institution, no public prayer or
public theology can cry my tears, mourn
my loss, discover my conviction, wrestle for
my faith. Inreach is prior to outreach. "If
we meet no gods it is because we harbor
none" (Emerson).




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