SAVING REMNANTS: Feeling Jewish in America by Sara Bershtel and Allen Graubard (Free Press: $24.95; 333 pp.). The Jews may have spent more than 3,000 years looking for a home until many of them found one in America, but the irony is not until then did their faith seem truly in danger. The perceived problem is intermarriage, which has increased fivefold in the U.S. over the last three years so the figure for highly educated Jews now approaches 75%. After interviewing several hundred (mostly baby boomer) Jews, however, the authors happily conclude intermarriage is usually not the same as assimilation. Nearly every one of their subjects expressed a need to "save remnants" of their faith--traditions which, true to the prophecy of Isaiah, have been the seeds of Jewish continuity and renewal throughout history.
"Saving Remnants" doesn't answer many of the questions it raises. Why, for instance, did the second generation of American Jewish immigrants--the ones in the late '40s and '50s who grew up with mah-jongg, boy scouts, girl scouts, football, gum and the Lone Ranger--maintain the distinctly Jewish lifestyles that the third generation seems to be losing? But the authors--Bershtel is a book publishing editor, Graubard an Oakland public school teacher--nevertheless offer a fascinating look at how many baby boomers have come to see their faith as a remedy for the ills we once thought only secular religions like psychology could provide. As one of the authors' assimilated subjects reports, "I know that, for my part, I am reacting to the rootlessness I felt as a child--to the fact that for all (of my) family's warmth, for all its intellectual vigor, for all its loyalty toward each other, our pasts had been amputated. We were orphans in history."