Also By This Author
“There are lots of books on what Judaism is about. This is a first-rate book on what Jews are about. And of the distance between the two.” The Jerusalem Post
And They Shall Be My People
An American Rabbi and His Congregation
978-0-8021-3725-8 • $14.00 • Paperback • Sep. 2000
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum is devoted to his congregation of mostly middle- and upper-middle-class Conservative Jews—yet their tepid observance frustrates and saddens him. The rabbi’s sometimes troubled, sometimes joyful leadership of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Massachusetts, is the focus of this timely, eloquent, and often moving book. Written by award-winning author Paul Wilkes, And They Shall Be My People presents a complex and human portrait of American Judaism at a critical juncture in time.
For Rabbi Rosenbaum, it is a time of new perils and persistent hope. American Judaism, he believes, has in some sense become a victim of its own considerable success. Now, with the struggle for economic security well behind most American Jews and with anti-Semitism on the wane, the health of the Jewish community is threatened by the easy seductiveness of the secular, mainstream American culture surrounding it. Daily, the rabbi confronts this new, complex challenge to his people’s spirituality: How to be a people, a Jewish community, and still be Americans?
As a man of tradition, the rabbi believes deeply that conforming to the expectations of the secular world—higher attendance figures, a larger budget—is the wrong way to strengthen his congregation. He knows he must somehow show his congregation the riches and fulfillment of an observant Jewish life. But even the efforts he makes—taking special care to keep his weekly Shabbat sermons both contemporary and spiritually compelling and bringing a sincere sensitivity to the recurring life-cycle events, the Brit Milah, bar mitzvahs, marriages, and funerals, which mark and shape all Jewish lives—may not be enough to overcome the temptations his congregation confronts daily.
And They Shall Be My People chronicles the rabbi’s dream of taking twenty-five of his congregants on a pilgrimage to Israel. There, he hopes, his fellow Jews will be inspired by the palpable history of the Jewish experience, the observant life made accessible by a society living more closely to its religious roots. The book helps us understand why Rabbi Rosenbaum so firmly believes that this experience will inspire his companions, and in turn the larger congregation back home, to renewed faith. And it allow us to see the rabbi in his daily life and work, to glimpse the myriad ways his faith and his role in the congregation shape his own life, his family relationships, and his congregation—providing joy in life, solace in death, a sense of spiritual identity, guidance in matters moral and practical.