Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

When Secularism Came to Russian Jewry:
Even in the Old Country the Process Had Gone Far

- Abstract

A legend has been created by the spiritual leaders of what is the largest section of American Jewry—made up of those who came here in the second great wave of immigration, or their descendants. The legend is a labor of love and nostalgia, but hardly of authentic knowledge; fond, idealized recollection has gone into it, fed not a little by the needs of group pride and recognition—also by a large amount of sheer ignorance. The name of the legend is “The East European Jew.”

Unhappy over the nature and prospects of Jewish life in America, many rabbis and journalists have projected the wishful picture of a kind of holy, integral Jewish life, untainted by modernism, that is supposed to have been lived by our fathers in Eastern Europe. Against this, they point up what they claim is the disintegration and emptiness of present-day American Jewish life. By dint of repetition and accumulation and embroidery of sentimental details, wide acceptance has been won for that picture, so that today many Jews—thinking Jews—have become homesick for a home they never knew. And the fact that the true original of that picture has been destroyed, and destroyed horribly, has only made their nostalgia more intense.

About the Author