Commentary Magazine

Ethnic Affinities

To the Editor:

Marshall Sklare is convinced that Milton Gordon has a conflict about his own Jewish identity and that Gordon's Assimilation in American Life “is suffused with the problem in its most characteristic form” [“Assimilation & the Sociologists,” May]. The key supposedly is in Gordon's assertion that the culturally and socially mobile ethnic group should be free to choose between the old ethnic world and the new American one. “It is clearly the Jew in Gordon that is speaking,” Sklare claims, “the products of no other group in America feel compelled to defend the right to assimilate.” Furthermore, Sklare insists, only Jews . . . feel intimidated and guilty about abandoning the old ties.

There is, of course, ample evidence to refute Sklare's curious, indeed remarkable, assertions. The studies done on immigration, the second-generation conflict, ethnic communities, and ethnic identity by numerous reputable scholars show that the conflict Gordon describes has been experienced by socially mobile Irish-Catholics, Italians, Poles, Negroes, etc. I would be glad to supply Sklare with a bibliography of thirty or forty items, some of which are cited in Gordon's book, on non-Jewish groups which explore various aspects of this conflict.

Finally, I do not know whether Milton Gordon has a “Jewish identity problem” nor is that question of any importance to anyone except Gordon and his family. I do know that he has written an excellent scholarly book about an important subject. There are propositions in his work which can be re-investigated, as he, himself, would be the first to suggest; but, Mr. Sklare, let us leave the gratuitous task of psychoanalyzing the author to less responsible minds.

Michael Parenti
State University of New York
Stony Brook, New York


To the Editor:

For several years now, the leadership of the Jewish community in the United States—religious, political, cultural, literary, and intellectual—has been in a state of anxiety and distress over what it sees as threats to the continued existence and vitality of Judaism in this country. The most violent responses seem to spring from evidence that an ever-increasing number of Jewish-born men and women are marrying partners whose background and upbringing are non-Jewish. (I am careful not to imply that they are of different “beliefs” at the time of their marriages.)

The typical response, even from otherwise intelligent and reasonable men, is to . . . threaten, forbid, and finally to reject anyone daring to contemplate what is called “intermarriage.” Aside from the absurdity of their response and its total lack of positive effect, . . . it is a strange thing to see the leaders of Judaism taking a stance more reactionary, more rigid, more irrational than any other major religious group in the world, certainly in the United States. Aside from looking and being ridiculous, they are at the same time driving away their young people who dare to take an individualistic stand in choosing their pattern of life—surely the element to be cherished most by any dynamic group.

The sad part is that the . . . demands being made on all religions by the modern era . . . are worthy of real thought and soul-searching, of agonized reappraisal and honest questioning. . . . What are the positive values Judaism can offer us when we are unthreatened by outside attack, but remain, along with all humanity, troubled and uncertain in our state of inner being? What does the Jewish religion say to the souls of its people? These are the real questions to which the intellectual and religious leadership should be addressing itself. Intermarriage and assimilation are irrelevant to the problem. . . .

The Temple congregations are concerned with beautiful buildings and institutional trappings; the rabbis are so involved in bar-mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals that they can't find the time to sit and talk to a perplexed Jew about what his religion can offer him that is meaningful to his life—his unspoken, private life; . . . the leaders of the large organizations are hysterical about Jewish boys and girls daring to commit the treason of falling in love and marrying “non-Jewish” partners, instead of proposing that the Jewish community take the trouble to welcome both partners, and make them see what, if anything, Judaism and Jewish culture have to offer them.

This letter was prompted by reading Mr. Sklare who, in his own way, is even more defensive than the author he criticizes, but there have been a whole series of articles in COMMENTARY, a great many speeches reported in the New York Times, a lot of silly lectures given at synagogues and organizational meetings, and I think a lot of people see through the breast-beating and wonder what it will accomplish and what is being lost in the meantime.

(Mrs.) Dorothy M. Uhlig
Merion Station, Pennsylvania

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