cover image Tradition Transformed: The Jewish Experience in America

Tradition Transformed: The Jewish Experience in America

Gerald Sorin, Author Johns Hopkins University Press $40 (312p) ISBN 978-0-8018-5446-0

Only about 20% of Jewish Americans classify themselves as observant and 52% are marrying out of the faith. But liberal Jews, at least, are likely to find comfort in Sorin's theory that despite those numbers, there is no reason to fear for the future of a Jewish presence in America. Hearty and adaptable, the Jewish Americans now entrenched in mainstream society survived and thrived, in part, by moving their religion beyond ""the realm of the synagogue,"" and extending it to ""the ideologies and activities of a wide spectrum of Jewish organizations and individuals usually described as secular."" Sorin provides extensive evidence to back his belief that establishing and supporting philanthropic organizations, practicing social justice and looking out for the welfare of Jews overseas have contributed as much, if not more, to the identity of Jewish Americans than those who have been keeping kosher and attending weekly Sabbath services. Sorin's research is exhaustive--and at times exhausting to read. He packs in the information--covering immigration, trade unions, politics, anti-Semitism and the somewhat strained relationship between blacks and Jews, among other topics. He also offers seemingly trivial but nonetheless tantalizing evidence of the flexibility of Jewish Americans: e.g., early in this century, Jewish farmers who had trouble working the ""relatively inhospitable soil of the Catskills"" turned their homes into boarding houses, laying the ground for what eventually became the Borscht Belt. (Apr.)