JEWISH EXPONENT -- Rachel B. Gross, a professor of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University, is willing to bet that you don’t see your purchase of a scarf from the National Museum of American Jewish History gift shop as religious practice. Ditto for a kosher-style pastrami sandwich scarfed down at Hymie’s, an afternoon spent on a Jewish genealogical website or a historical tour of Congregation Mikveh Israel.
These activities, as we typically understand them, are Jewish cultural practices, distinct from religious practices that take place in synagogues or around the Shabbos dinner table. They are expressions of nostalgia, in many cases, rather than spiritual exercises.
But Gross argues in her provocative new book that this distinction between “religious” and “cultural” is false. The widely shared experience of American Jewish nostalgia is, she says, the expression of understanding between Jews living and dead, i.e., religion, and create networks of sacred meaning.