Reform Judaism, 1848, and the how Reform reacts on the assimilation?
Reform Judaism, 1848, and the how Reform reacts on the assimilation?
While producing the documentary on the Jewish 48’ers in America, I had the honour and pleasure to meet Dr. Gary Zola of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati. Firstly, I would like to say one more time special thanks to the American Jewish Archives for providing material and a massive support for our documentary. Special thanks to Dr. Gary Zola, executive director and to Dr. Dana Herman and to the whole team who assisted us unearthing so many unseen and nearly lost Jewish historical materials.

There was a strong connection between the 1848’ers and the Reform movement. Great reform rabbis such as David Einhorn, Samuel Holdheim, Abraham Geiger in Germany, and rabbis and leaders like Ignac Einhorn, Michael Heilprin in Hungary who campaigned for the Jews to join the Hungarian revolutionary forces. Among the Hungarian rebels was Adolphus Hubsch an 18 years old lieutenant who later became a distinguished rabbi of Ahavath Chesed in New York. There is no material in Hungarian language on this great rabbi and Hungarian patriot. Discovering his story and his impact on American Judaism would not have been possible without reading Dr. Gary Zola’s book on The Americanization of the Jewish prayer book.
The book rich in details helped forming my mind on a number of serious issues. Such as the assimilation, mixed marriages and the Jewish identity.

It’s not rare that Reform Judaism can be subject of attacks even in the Jewish world. A recent one came from Israel’s foreign minister who compared mixed marriages to the Holocaust, pointing at the American Jewry. This hurt many of those Jews who came from mixed marriages and who are deeply devoted for the Jewish people.
A politician like the above definitely should read this book, before pointing fingers at the American Jewry. After learning more about Huebsch from Dr. Zola (it’s unbelievable he’s out of Hungarian Jewish literature) it convinced me that actually Reform Judaism is the solution to prevent assimilation. Why can Reform Judaism stop the assimilation?
The Jews of 1848 wanted to take part of the modern society and Reform Judaism gave them the opportunity for this desire. Congregations in America were founded by reform Jews who were forced to leave the old continent behind. Without their contribution America would not be the same today.
I now see that Rabbi Adolphus Huebsch of Ahavath Chesed in New York, and Reform Judaism were the alternatives for the young Jews in America who had their own enlightenment and wanted to be full part of the world’s society. They did not want to be excluded anymore. I also believe it’s important to mention Rabbi Alexander Kohut who came as Neolog rabbi from Hungary and became rabbi at Ahavath Chesed after Hubsch’s death. Also, an exceptional rabbi. I believe that Reform Judaism saved the American Jewry from mass assimilation in the 19th and early 20th century by providing this alternative: staying a proud Jew and being active member of the secular society at one time.
While in Europe, everything was different. As many reformers left Europe and more Conservatives and Orthodox stayed the Jews who wanted to be integrated to the rapidly changing society did not have many choices. As a result of that masses will leave Judaism and assimilate, a lot will convert to Christianity, hoping to reach their goals in the secular world.
Without religious reforms in America I think masses of Jews would have assimilated into the non-Jewish American society. Majority of the people don’t like religious radicalism and would prefer to live happily in a secular and modern world, regardless of religion.

The book also opened my eyes about the importance of praying in our native language. Now thinking back, I remember the first feeling when I attended Shabbat service and how I felt when I read the prayers in Hungarian as well, and not just in Hebrew.
Praying in native language is much stronger in a spiritual way than in a language we do not understand. And I am confident that Hubsch never denied his Hebrew roots, but brought Judaism much closer to the people by praying in their native language, therefore strengthening the American Jewish community. Praying in the native language gave exceptional support for the Protestant movements in Europe, especially in Hungary. Of course, it gives the same spiritual feeling when a Jew says his prayers, both in Hebrew and in native language.

From my experience I also know a good number of young people who are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and who only found out their origin after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Despite their initial interest in Judaism, they are not willing to go back to their roots, as they identify all of the Jews the same with the ultra-Orthodox community.
Many from the above Jewish group isolate themselves from the world, and does not provide a modern way to live for the majority of the Jews, or for those who are of Jewish roots. One of the problems with isolation is that is what Anti-Semites want. They want that the Jews wouldn’t be involved in the society at all, they want them to be excluded.
People get surprised when they hear about the Reform community, that there’s an alternative to their identity/religious problems. One of these people was a university professor of mine who found out that his grandmother was Jewish. In the beginning he was even scared to approach a rabbi, being in a faith that the Jews are a very closed community and he will be sent away. Now he knows more about Reform Judaism and he’s actively searching his identity. So, thanks to the Reform, a lost generation is coming back to their Jewish roots.
Reform makes the Jewish nation bigger and better. It’s not assimilating us; it’s reacting to the changing times and provides an alternative to the Jews throughout the world.

Peter Kovacs Rosenbluth
Jewishdocumentaries.info
Next: The Holocaust in my city, in my family And a remarkable experience of an exceptional meeting

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