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The Gifts of the Jews

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The Gifts of the Jews

Catholic author thanks Jews for Western values

Review by April Witt for Miami Herald

Published: Tuesday, April 14, 1998,

If not for the Jews, no one would know to love justice, yearn for freedom, struggle for faith in one God or hope for a tomorrow better than today.

Jews helped invent Western culture and without Jewish ideas and values there would be no civil rights movement, democracy or even history.

That's the central, sweeping premise of The Gifts of the Jews, the latest book by Roman Catholic scholar and best-selling author Thomas Cahill.

''The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside -- our outlook and our inner life,'' writes Cahill, who will be at Temple Judea in Coral Gables tonight to talk about the book.

''We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact -- new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, program, spirit; faith, hope, just -- are the gifts of the Jews.''

Cahill, 58, has his own gift: making history accessible, even compelling to a mass culture largely ignorant of its patrimony. His last book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, was a New York Times bestseller for more than a year and a half. The Gifts of the Jews, the second in a planned series, climbs onto the list next week.

''I tell history as a story and people love stories,'' Cahill said in a telephone interview Monday. ''It's a human need.''

''I tried to find a language that enables me to talk to Jews, to Christians and to secular Western unbelievers so they can all follow me through the story.''

But Cahill has a grander purpose than telling stories or selling books.

''I think we are, for all kinds of reasons, in danger of forgetting who we are,'' Cahill said. ''In education, in the culture at large, we have stopped naming our ancestors.''

As head of religious publishing for Doubleday for many years, Cahill spent hours at meetings with young colleagues ''who seemed to think that most of what happened before the Kennedy assassination might as well have been in the Middle Ages,'' he said.

''There's just a real dumbing down of where things came from and how we got to be who we



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