About the Book
Publication Date: March 2019
Almost half of Jews today claim that “having a good sense of humor” is more important to being Jewish than observing Jewish law, being a part of the Jewish community, or even eating Jewish foods. Is laughter truly essential to Jewish identity? Is Jewdar—Jews’ often inexplicable ability to detect Members of the Tribe they’ve never met—somehow fundamental to Jewishness? What about the thousands-year- old Jewish fear that their generation will be the last generation of Jews, “the ever-dying people”? Oh, and by the way, Jews are better educated, live longer, and have more sex than most of their neighbors. Why don’t more people convert?
“More deli than deity” writer Nancy Kalikow Maxwell—who unabashedly dollops butter at meat meals and asserts she thinks, acts, eats, laughs, kvetches, and kvells like a Jew—poses these and other pressing questions in eight chapters—Worrying, Kvelling, Dying, Noshing, Laughing, Detecting, Dwelling, and Joining—in search of what it means to be “typically Jewish.”
For answers she turns to three sources: her own intermarriage (like nearly three-fourths of non-Orthodox Jews, she married a non-Jew); her Master’s degree in Catholic Theology (she was working at the college, so tuition was free); and her assembled “Jury on Jewishness,” (friends she roped into talking about being Jewish).
Naturally, they don’t agree on anything, so she asks rabbis, employs her professional librarian skills (researching academic works on sociology, social psychology, comparative religions, ethnic studies, and Judaism), and comes to her own “typically Jewish” conclusions. Along the way, she—and we—learn more about Jewish living than any of us could have anticipated. For example:
*Jews worry about continuity even though Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitz prohibited
even that, declaring “All worrying is forbidden, except to worry that one is worried.”
* Jews can kvell about Jewish generosity: about 75% of American Jews give to charity,
compared to 63% of other Americans.
* Since it took reciting Kaddish to get secular Jews to come to synagogue, the rabbis,
aware of their captive audience, moved the prayer to the end of the service.
*Who’s Jewish? Almost a quarter of Nobel Prize winners, about 80% of America’s
comedians and writers, and the winner of Nazi Germany’s “Most Perfect Aryan Child Contest.”
* To detect Jews, sneak peeks at their cellphone covers; you might spot “Chai. How Are
You?” or “Keep Calm. Daven On.”
Anyone who wants to discover more about how Jews feel, think, act, love, and live will laughingly learn while reading Typically Jewish. Additionally, Jewish groups can converse and connect using the questions and suggestions for interactive activities in the book’s Discussion Guide.
“As Maxwell takes readers on a humorous safari to observe Jews in their natural habitat, even Jews who have never set foot in a synagogue or JCC will recognize themselves with wondrous insight. And all Jews who love learning will delight in learning a lot. I definitely did.”
– Maggie Anton, author of Rashi’s Daughters and Fifty Shades of Talmud.
“As a pulpit rabbi I’m often asked, “‘What does it mean to be Jewish?’ Is it a religion? A ‘race’? A nationality? Speaking a certain language? A faith? A way of life? Typically Jewish answers the question— and, like any other great Jewish book, raises many others. Complete with a superb extremely user friendly study guide, it’s a fantastic source for adult education study sessions. I also plan to make it required reading for my Introduction to Judaism students.”
– Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, Temple Israel of Greater Kansas City