Saving Remnants: Feeling Jewish in America by Sara Bershtel and Allen Graubard. The Free Press (a division of McMillan, Inc.) 1992 333 pp.
Do the Jewish people in America today stand at the threshold of extinction? Harvard graduates, Sara Bershtel and Allen Graubard, tackle the assimilation paradox in their new book, Saving Remnants: Feeling Jewish in America. The authors maintain that the present sociological trend among Jewish people should be called acculturation, rather than assimilation. They reposition the current enigma, saying that the Jewish person today faces positive results of choices” rather than the tragedy of “lost” identity. For some people, the authors demonstrate, this has led to a revived yet redefined commitment to their Jewishness.
Over a ten year period, Bershtel and Graubard interviewed hundreds of American Jews representing a cross-section of Jewish experience. They included Marxists, atheists (including observant atheists), reformed, conservative, orthodox, politically liberal, politically conservative, gay, lesbian, feminist, reconstructionist and socialist Jews.
The one Jewish group of significant numbers which was omitted is Messianic Jews. In what otherwise appears to be objective study and research, the authors appear to not have met or talked with even one Jewish believer in Jesus. The number of Messianic Jews or Jewish-Christians in the United States now totals 35,000-50,000.
While the authors did not interview any Messianic Jews, they do touch upon the subject of Christianity. Sadly, rather than broadening the understanding of the Christian faith, Bershtel and Graubard perpetuate many commonly held misconceptions. For example, some of the interviewees used the term “Christian” somewhat loosely, often to describe any gentile, whether or not he or she holds to any Christian teaching. The authors let stand this flawed stream of thinking that one is born a Christian in the same way one is born a Jew.
Conversely, they do challenge other illogical statements, such as some Orthodox Jews admitting they don’t believe in God.
No earth-shattering revolutions emerge from the interviews. Nonetheless, the Jewish reader will find many long-held perceptions about Jewish attitudes validated. This could either be comforting or disconcerting, depending upon one’s experience.
Bershtel and Graubard provide a long-range, optimistic forecast for the future of Jewish people in America, which will be a much more diversified time than any previous generation ever experienced.
If readers want a book that defines, once-and-for-all “who is a Jew,” this is not it. However, Saving Remnants proves valuable to the person wanting to understand some of the traditions, beauty, complexities and prejudices found in Jewish life and sub-culture. It strongly reinforces the truth that American Jewish people have become consummate Americans.