Reflections of a Wandering American Jew
Jerold S. Auerbach
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An American professor of history finds his roots in a personal journey through Israel--and through assimilated America, academia, baseball, and family--headlong into deep tensions and ambivalence about country, culture, identity and religion. Worried about the commitment of Jews to their heritage, Jerold Auerbach (renowned author of Unequal Justice) shares his story and musings with insight, irony, and intensity. A personal journey, literally and spiritually, to Israel by one of the most recognized legal historians in the United States.
Jerold S. Auerbach explores the uncomfortable space--remote from Jewish memory--between the Eastern European shtetl and American suburbia. Members of his "third generation" of American Jews were taught to invert the classic formula of Jewish emancipation: they learned to become marginal Jews at home and wary Americans on the street. To reconcile the Jewish and American claims on their loyalty, they sublimated their Judaism in American liberalism. Along the way, they became the last generation of Jews to know the consequences of Jewish powerlessness and the first to experience the restoration of Jewish national sovereignty. Their American Jewish identity was indelibly marked by the Holocaust and by Israel.
Auerbach begins with recollections of a New York Jewish boyhood in the 1940s and 1950s. The themes are acculturation and social mobility, baseball and academics--accompanied by the sublimation of Jewishness in personal success and liberal politics. But his is a narrative of self-discovery that unfolded both in his American home and in the Jewish homeland. An unexpected visit to Israel prompted a series of encounters with Jewish memory, both personal and historical, resulting in the author's hairpin turn of Jewish identity. Finding pockets of Jewish memory in Israel, Auerbach heard his grandfather Jacobís voice for the first timeóand thus discovered his own.
Auerbach sets much of Jacob's Voices in Israel, where he positions his quest for Jewish identity within the larger struggle of the Jewish state to define itself. Ironically, Auerbach left liberalism for Judaism even as Israel redefined Zionism as liberalism. In the end, after seriously considering moving to Israel, he returned to the United States. Auerbach analyzes the reasons--historically rooted in Jewish emancipation--why Israel has become for him merely a state of the Jews, more an appendage of the United States than a Jewish state.
Jerold S. Auerbach is Professor of History emeritus at Wellesley College.