“American JewBu” by Emily Sigalow— The Jewish American Encounter with Buddhism

Sigalow, Emily. “American JewBu”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

The Jewish American Encounter with Buddhism

Amos Lassen

Many Jewish Americans today enjoy a dual religious identity in which they practice Buddhism while remaining connected to their Jewish roots. In “American JewBu”, Emily Sigalow shares the story of Judaism’s encounter with Buddhism in the United States and shows how it has given rise to new contemplative forms within American Judaism as well as have shaped the way Americans understand and practice Buddhism.

Sigalow begins back in the nineteenth century and brings us forward to today tracing the history of these two traditions in this country and shows how they came together. She maintains that the distinctive social position of American Jews led them to their engagement with Buddhism, and shows us how people incorporate aspects of both religions into their everyday lives. Through original in-depth interviews that she conducted across America, Sigalow looks at how Jewish American Buddhists experience both religious identities. Jewish Buddhists cause consternation about prevailing expectations of minority religions in America. Instead of just adapting to the majority religion, Jews and Buddhists borrow and integrate elements from each other. By doing so they have left a mark on the consciousness of this country.

We see the leading role that American Jews have played in the popularization of meditation and mindfulness in the United States, and the impact that the traditions have had on one another

“Jews in the United States have been engaged in religious, spiritual, and secularized paths toward creating a Jewish Buddhist sense of self.” Here we read why Buddhism is so popular among American Jews. Sigalow looks at the important factors of
history and sociology and we see  why Jews turned to Buddhism, how this coming together has changed both faiths, and how Jewish Buddhists or Buddhist Jews teach us about American religion.

JewBus are often commented upon on but rarely studied, probably because there has not been what to study.  To understand the multiple ways Jews influenced the development of Buddhism in America, this is the book to read. Sigalow combining ethnographic research with historical and cultural analysis gives us a brilliant portrait of Jewish Buddhists in America. She puts simplistic explanations of the JewBu to rest and replaces it with historical and social accounts of today.

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