‘Jew vs. Jew’ author to speak in Teaneck
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‘Jew vs. Jew’ author to speak in Teaneck

A man is stranded on a desert island, as the old joke goes. When he is finally rescued, his rescuers find that he has built his own village with a school, a library, and two synagogues.

Why two synagogues, they ask.

The one he attends, the man says, and the one he wouldn’t be caught dead in.

The Jewish community is no stranger to intra-communal conflict, whether between Orthodox and Reform, religious and secular, or Zionist and anti-Zionist. In 2000, Columbia University journalism professor Samuel Freedman’s “Jew vs. Jew,” an account of the religious and social conflicts between American Jews, garnered him worldwide praise for his investigation of the schisms in the Jewish community.

The book, Freedman told The Jewish Standard earlier this week in a telephone interview, “was a result of working around practicing Jews and, as a journalist, seeing types of conflicts emerging and wondering if there were some sort of social forces making these things happen.”

Freedman will discuss his book and current conflicts within the Jewish community on Sunday at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, during an event sponsored by the Jewish Center and the Jewish Community Council of Teaneck.

“Jew vs. Jew” won the National Jewish Book Award for non-fiction in 2001. The Forward named Freedman one of the 50 most important American Jews in 2000.

Many of the conflicts Freedman covered in his book remain, but he noted there have been some changes in the Jewish community since he penned “Jew vs. Jew.”

“The blurring of the denominational lines has become more pronounced since then,” he said, adding that the movements have become more “porous, more salient.”

“It comes up around specific issues rather than movement vs. movement tension,” he said.

He also pointed to what he called “the phenomenon” of the growth and influence of Chabad. In addition, Jewish groups across the spectrum have increased their focus on social justice issues, as characterized by the Conservative movement’s institution of its Hekhsher Tzedek ethical kashrut seal and the many projects of American Jewish World Service.

Politically, a greater divide exists now between two generations of Jews: those who grew up in the years leading up to the 1973 Yom Kippur War and those who grew up afterward as witnesses to what Freedman called Israel’s “more elective wars,” such as the 1981 Lebanon War and the first intifada.

“There’s a reason the AIPAC versus J Street thing happened,” Freedman said. “It put into institutional form some of the schisms in American Jewry.”

That political divide subsided during the second intifada when Israel was under constant terrorist attack, but “now for a variety of reasons, that left-right schism is reasserting itself very strongly and something like J Street is giving it a form it didn’t have before.”

How Israeli Jews relate to diaspora Jews has been a continual debate, one that is unlikely to subside, Freedman said. Another major issue facing the Jewish community is how to approach Jews with only one Jewish parent, even if that parent is not necessarily the mother. “A legitimate question is to what degree will these people be part of our community moving forward.”

“Now it’s so normative,” he continued. “The thrill of being the first is over because it happened.”

Freedman’s talk is scheduled for 7 p.m. For more information, call (201) 692-0224.

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