are frequenth deluded into thinking thatrna catalogue of bones, potsherds, andrngraves constitutes some kind of history.rn\’ithout the written evidence of narratirnc histor), legal cases, and literature, werncan hae erv little idea of another civilization.rnWhere such records exist, ofrncourse, archeology can be enormouslyrnuseful in solving problems, but wherernthere is no literature—as in the Greekrn”Dark Ages”—the results are very muchrnlike the blind man’s impression of an artrngaller. The real danger, however, comesrnwhen technologues go from the reassuringhrnsolid evidence of bones and relicsrnand tr’ to interpret e’idence of anotherrnkind—the records of the human mindrnand spirit. Here their incapacity is notrnthe ignorance of the blind man in the artrngallery but the blind man in the minernfield, and all their learning becomesrnmere information of the type thatrndestroys knowledge.rnThomas Fleming is the editor ofrnChronicles.rnA Bronx Collagernby Jacob NeusnerrnUnfinished People: Eastern EuropeanrnJews Encounter Americarnby Ruth GayrnNew York: W.W. Norton;rn310 pp., $27.50rnFort cars ago in Commentary, RuthrnGa created the American Jewishrnessay as an art form of dignity andrneloquence, and in this wonderful bookrnshe brings her life’s work to its gloriousrnclimax in a sustained statement of remarkablernpurit. hi the beginning, sherntook the raw materials of everyday life asrnlived by New York Jews and turned themrninto art—a verbal collage, realh’—thatrncaptured ordinary lives, while ennoblingrnand dignifying them. (All this in a memorablernessay on the Jewish delicatessen inrnthe Bronx.) No one had written that wa’rnbefore, but many have tried—few withrnequi’alent success—since.rnIn her new book, she portrays two generationsrnof New York Jews: the immigrantsrnof the beginning of this eenturv.rnand their children of the middle ears.rnWhat makes her writing remarkable isrnnot just its sensitivity for ec>catie detail,rnits ability to suggest large thoughtsrnthrough humble observation. It is thernabsence of nostalgia and sentimentality,rnthe lack of cheapness, and the refusalrnto take the easy way out. Respectingrnher subject. Gay never patronizes orrnridicules. And because her vision penetratesrnthe heart of experience, she is incapable,rnas always, of condescension.rnConxentional treatment of New YorkrnJews—like that of Wood}- Allen, thernmost eloquent and ferocious Judaismhaterrnof our day—demeans them. Orrnelse it patronizes them through implausiblernidealization. Here, by contrast, wernha’c a sustained account of the life of anrnimmigrant milkman and his family inrnthe Bronx: a life of near-penury and perpetualrninsecurit}’, but one of dignity andrnhumanity—and holiness—withal.rnIn man- was the book is a mirror imagernof the other classic on the immigrantrnexperience and that of their children,rnOscar 1 landlin’s The Uprooted: the startingrnpoint for sustained historical researchrnthat Handlin himself pioneered. 1 Ic announcedrnthen that he had set out tornwrite the stor}- of immigration to America,rnbut found out that immigrationrnwas the story of America. Then in generalrnterms, pertinent to every group, herntold the tale of the immigrants and theirrnstruggle. Gay tells the same stor’—rnabout Jews in the Bronx. It bears thernsame charge of universal interest: thernparticulars conveying the universalrnpicture.rnThe book begins with a brief accountrnof immigrant origins in Eastern Europernand ends by reflecting upon their experience,rnand that of their children, in thernNew World. Eastern European JewT todayrnis idealized, and even—owing to thernemotionalism engendered by the literaturernof the holocaust—canonized. Gayrnshows the poverty, miser’, and hopelessnessrnproduced by economic disaster andrnpolitical catastrophe after the dissolutionrnof Poland b’ Russia, Austria, and Germanyrnthat persuaded millions of people,rnmost of them teenagers, to escape tornGodless America. The shank of thernbook covers subjects of quotidian interestrnpro’iding the occasion for profoundrnreflection.rnRuth Gay is a woman of remarkablernwisdom, which is why her book worksrnso well. She sees much, and understandsrnmore. Throughout, she gives us insightrninto the traits of intensity, toughness,rnand candor that marked New YorkrnJewish life.rnGay also shows the underside of candor,rnthe brutality and chaos of human relationships,rnexplaining wh- those of usrnborn and brought up in more genteel settingsrnand brought to New York by reasonrnof education found life in that city atrnonce attractive and revolting. When,rnfrom a Yankee suburb of what was then arnwhite Protestant state capital, I came, viarnHar’ard and Oxford, to the Jewish TheologicalrnSeminar’ of America, 1 enteredrna wodd in which everday human relationshipsrnwere brutal, en\ undisguised,rnand gentilit}- rare. A son of the third generation,rnI did not know what to make ofrnNew York Jews, who flourished in intenserncontention. In those days I found solacernin the study of Abraham Heschel, an immigrantrnand a theological model, whornfound that wodd equally puzzling by reasonrnof a quite different upbringing. Herncame out of the nobilitv of Judaism, andrnI came looking for that same Judaism:rnthe one viewing with pit}’ the works ofrnprior immigrants and their children, thernother the embodiment of Jewish immigrantrnlife in quest of something beyondrnthe wilderness that two generations ofrnimmigrant Jews had wrought.rnBeing an immigrant made for a toughrnlife. But being an immigrant’s child presentedrneven more intractable problemsrnto work out. Ruth Gay makes of the encounterrnbetween generations and culturesrna remarkable and ennobling storv,rnand a well-told one besides.rnJacob Neusner is Distinguished ResearchrnProfessor ofRehgious Studies at thernUniversity of South Florida, Tampa, andrnauthor, most recently, of The Price ofrnExcellence: Universities in GonflietrnDuring the Cold War Era (Continuum).rnFor Immediate ServicernCHRONICLESrnNEW SUBSCRIBERSrnTOLL FREE NUMBERrn1-800-877-5459rnAPRIL 1997/39rnrnrn