Aug 29, 2011

Book Review: Why Be Jewish?

About a month ago, the kind folks over at Mosaica Press tapped me to write a review of "Why Be Jewish?" by Doron Kornbluth. Me being a bibliophile, I agreed to accept the book and write the review, as I do with so many books here on the blog. But with that disclaimer out of the way, I have to say that I honestly don't have much to say about this book. The author seems like it should be a declaration more than a question, but ... who knows. This book is just plain off on its intents.'s Editorial Review describes the book this way:

An increasing number of people regard being Jewish as a lifestyle choice rather than an unchangeable fact. Jewish identity no longer survives automatically. To stay Jewish today, each of us needs to find our own reasons why our heritage is important, inspirational, and relevant to our lives. Bestselling author Doron Kornbluth travels to over 50 cities a year to speak about Jewish identity. "Why Be Jewish" is touching, thought provoking, meaningful and funny. See which perspectives appeal most to you, and gain clarity and confidence in why you're Jewish.
I describe the book this way:
People identify as Jewish in vastly different ways, and as we try to understand these divergent and sometimes contradictory journeys, we must listen to narratives in order to connect to one another and to truly understand the question, Why Be Jewish?
Now, although I describe the book that way, that isn't exactly how the book comes across. I admire the author for writing the book in honor of a teenager who was killed in a terrorist attack in Israel, and I admire the effort to express the colorful narratives of what it means to be Jewish and how each of us choose to express our Jewishness. But the author imagines these narratives. They aren't real. 

I kept having to go back to the introduction to figure out exactly what the book was doing, because each chapter is a different narrative about the choice and way in which ones Jewishness manifests. One would have thought that the author would use real-life narratives, but instead he uses imagined narratives of different people with different circumstances with different desires and backgrounds. My question? Why not just tell real stories of real people? Those are the most compelling. Not imagined narratives of what real-life people think. I want to hear it from the mouths of the real people!

Overall, the book was a disappointment, and the cover of the book is confusing, don't you think? There are many collections of stories about being Jewish that are more powerful than the imagination can conjure, so why not stick to real stories by real people instead of one man's imagined Jewish masses.


CrazyJewishConvert said...

I agree that the cover is extremely confusing. A good cover in theory, but not for this topic.

Jacob Metcalf said...

I agree. That is a TERRIBLE cover. I am not going to judge a book by it's cover but... sheesh.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Glad I'm not alone on this!

Anonymous said...

I love the cover, personally. Not sure what they meant but maybe the goal is to look at famous impressive people and think if they can do great things why not me? or maybe if they are not Jewish and great people, do I need to be Jewish to be great?

Anonymous said...

very misleading. at first glance, I thought, " oh I didn't know Nelson Mandela was Jewish." LOL the I looked at Mother Theresa and thought, "Wait a minute..."

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