Remix Judaism: Pre­serv­ing Tra­di­tion in a Diverse World

  • Review
By – November 9, 2020

Rober­ta Rosen­thal Kwall could not have imag­ined how DIY” would become such a cen­tral part of all of our lives in 2020; her book Remix Judaism: Pre­serv­ing Tra­di­tion in a Diverse World fits remark­ably well into con­ver­sa­tions about what it means to be Jew­ish and prac­tice Judaism in the cur­rent moment. Kwall’s book explores a broad spec­trum of obser­vance and tra­di­tion, includ­ing prayer, kosher and shab­bat rit­u­als, social action, edu­ca­tion, and grand­par­ent­ing. By orga­niz­ing her work accord­ing to each area of obser­vance, Kwall gives her read­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence the tit­u­lar remix — the abil­i­ty to dive in and out of spe­cif­ic tra­di­tions, focus­ing on those which are most mean­ing­ful at a par­tic­u­lar time.

Kwall’s artic­u­la­tion of the essence of Remix Judaism cap­tures the spir­it of indi­vid­u­al­ism that has become foun­da­tion­al to most recent Jew­ish soci­o­log­i­cal schol­ar­ship. Her research in this area, cou­pled with her knowl­edge and inclu­sion of tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish texts — both ancient and mod­ern — helps her read­ers to under­stand the ongo­ing process of con­nect­ing their cur­rent Jew­ish iden­ti­ties and prac­tices with the Judaism that came before. Kwall uses these writ­ings to demon­strate the ways in which pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions devel­oped their own rit­u­als, and explic­it­ly gives sup­port to those who would choose to both fol­low exist­ing paths and adjust their con­tours. She only fal­ters when ref­er­enc­ing a dichoto­my between Ortho­dox prax­is and oth­ers. As Remix Judaism does not defer to denom­i­na­tion­al labels and embraces the com­plex­i­ty of a Judaism that doesn’t fit nice­ly into box­es, this dichoto­my felt at times forced.

Kwall is at her best when she is writ­ing about the per­son­al choic­es made by friends and acquain­tances, high­light­ing the rela­tion­ships that cause us to con­sid­er what will go in our own per­son­al remix. Her chap­ter on Jew­ish grand­par­ent­ing stood out as a par­tic­u­lar­ly excel­lent exam­ple. The sto­ries Kwall presents here are deeply relat­able, and she shares them with a gen­er­ous dose of empa­thy. Most refresh­ing was that this chap­ter, along with the one on social action, fea­tures sto­ries that cross gen­er­a­tional lines. With so many stud­ies and books that focus on just one gen­er­a­tion’s expe­ri­ence, it was a plea­sure to be shown that Jew­ish engage­ment is a life-long jour­ney — that the mix of Judaism we choose when we are young can evolve as we encounter new life expe­ri­ences and relationships.

Remix Judaism shows the diver­si­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties for engage­ment in Jew­ish life that exists today. Many mature read­ers will rec­og­nize them­selves nav­i­gat­ing the intri­cate dance between what we’ve always done” and what if we tried to do it this way.” Kwall’s book brings plen­ty of mate­r­i­al to a book club dis­cus­sion or adult edu­ca­tion event; the book also has the poten­tial to encour­age con­ver­sa­tions in fam­i­lies and among close friends, where chang­ing Jew­ish prac­tice may bring chal­lenges and dis­agree­ments into the exist­ing rela­tion­ship. Remix Judaism is a remark­ably accu­rate snap­shot of where Amer­i­can Jews find them­selves right now.

Deb­by Miller is a long-time board mem­ber of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, serv­ing on its Fic­tion com­mit­tee, and lat­er found­ing the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Book Clubs. She is cur­rent­ly a Vice Pres­i­dent of the orga­ni­za­tion. Deb­by is based in Greens­boro, NC and has been involved in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty through Nation­al Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women (NCJW), AIPAC, B’nai Shalom and the Fed­er­a­tion. She was pres­i­dent of the local Women’s Divi­sion and cam­paign chair, and also got involved in the Nation­al Women’s Divi­sion. One of her pri­ma­ry phil­an­thropic endeav­ors is her work with JDC, where she has been a mem­ber of the board since 1994

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