Finding a Way to Keep Judaism Alive
Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The lot of contemporary Jewry is to live in paradox. In the aftermath of Adolf Hitler's Holocaust came the cry, "Never again." And now, more than a half century later there has arisen a new concern, especially in the United States. In this most tolerant of democracies, Jews are disappearing through intermarriage, loss of faith and even formal conversion. What Auschwitz couldn't completely accomplish, the Bill of Rights and North American culture (I include Canada) may, thereby giving Hitler a posthumous triumph.
Herman Wouk, now 84, is a best-selling Pulitzer prize-winning novelist whose works have been translated into 27 languages. Two great novels about World War II, "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" (Tolstoyan in scope, Anthony Burgess described them), "The Caine Mutiny," "Marjorie Morningstar" and two novels about Israel's wars, are only a few of his books. He is now working on a musical based on his comedic novel, "Don't Stop the Carnival," with Jimmy Buffett. (In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Wouk, a Columbia College classmate, has a page about me in this book and my loss of faith.)
Mr. Wouk is also a practicing orthodox Jew who spends part of each day at synagogue prayers and at home studying Mishna or Gemara, sacred texts of Jewish ethics and faith. I mention this because as a writer, Mr. Wouk has moved counter to what has been regarded for the past 50 years as the modern sensibility: loss of faith, spiritual bewilderment and the arrogant claim of man's absurdity in the eyes of his non-Creator.
This is not for Mr. Wouk. He brings a message: "Judaism will and must remain a living faith - every thinking Jew knows that the heritage is threatened," he writes. It was Jacob who began the "eternal struggle to stay alive among the nations," he notes. Jewish survival was the mission of Moses who "introduced into mankind's thought an absolutely new idea, namely that God loved us, and that we were to love God."
This teaching, says Mr. Wouk, is "the essence of Hebraism" and accounts for Jewish survival to this day when other nations have disappeared. Mr. Wouk, however, writes with full consciousness that "the catastrophic collapse of Yiddishkeit (Jewishness) in the United States has happened."
For a long time Mr. Wouk and his wife, Sarah, herself a convert, resided in the Georgetown section of the nation's capital. Today they live in Palm Springs, with a population of 45,000 people, 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Mr. Wouk has in a sense turned this town into his ancestral "shtetl": An orthodox synagogue is within walking distance and there are more than enough observing Jews to make a "minyan," the essential quorum for communal prayers. For Mr. Wouk the Jewish faith is bound to Orthodox Judaism, not Reform, not Conservative Judaism. …