Jewish Soul, American Beat

This documentary's title dares to find something harmonious in the thorny issue of Jewish assimilation in America. Pfeffer bucks conventional wisdom to argue that, despite the moaning about secularism and intermarriage threatening Jewish survival, an encouraging reawakening is sending previously nonobservant Jews back to their religious roots. Pfeffer's evidence— Downtown artists like John Zorn who incorporate their renewed passion for Judaism into their work, Russian émigrés in Brighton Beach eagerly practicing rites forbidden to them for generations, the SRO Shabbat services at the Upper West Side's B'nai Jeshurun— would seem stronger if it were less anecdotal and extended beyond New York City. She also includes the opinions of doubters, including Arthur Hertzberg, who decries as inauthentic the "picking and choosing" approach to Judaism, and Cynthia Ozick, who finds the revival's focus on the "spiritual" a squishy New Age­ism foreign to the Jewish tradition of rigorous study. But while Pfeffer's brief survey raises more questions than it can answer, her optimism, like the apparent joy of her subjects, is refreshing.

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