Arts and Culture | High Holidays

Books that made a difference — Ivan Gur-Arie

Ivan Gur-Arie

“Jewcentricity:  Why the Jews are Praised, Blamed, and Used to Explain Just About Everything” by Adam M. Garfinkle, a very readable book, encompasses historical, psychological, cultural and sociological themes. It has always intrigued me why Jews throughout history always got the limelight, for good or bad. This book certainly provides some answers, helping me better understand the trials of the Jewish people, past and present.

Some of the issues covered are the relationship of Jews to the societies in which they live and those societies throughout the world in which they do not. For example: Is one a Jewish American or an American Jew? What is the difference and why do some people prefer one label over the other? What is the difference between anti-Jewish sentiment and genuine anti-Semitism? When did anti-Semitism first rear its ugly head and why?

The author discusses the development and evolution of anti-Semitism from cultural, religious and racial perspectives. The genesis of Muslim anti-Semitism is examined in light of today’s international issues.

Underlying the entire book is the question of “chosennesss” and what it has meant for Jewish history. In this discussion, the author investigates the differences among Orthodox, modern religious and secular attitudes and how the concept of “chosenness” has affected non-Jewish attitudes and behavior toward Jews.

The relationship between Jewish “chosenness” and the American “city on the hill” concept and how it has tied the two societies closely together is examined. Also explored is the vital involvement of Judaism in the development of the capitalist system, resulting from employment restrictions imposed on Jews through the ages.

Some people believe that Judaism is stultifying and an old-fashioned religion. The author shows us that in fact, unlike other religions that respect authoritarianism and hidebound traditions, Judaism is a totally modern religion adapting to modern times. Many other topics are covered, helping to build my knowledge, answering questions that have intrigued me my entire life.

Ivan Gur-Arie is a retired attorney.