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From a Jewish Communist to a Jewish Buddhist: Allen Ginsberg as a Forerunner of a New American Jew

Department of Religious Studies, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 106 Carolina Hall, UNC Campus, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA
Religions 2019, 10(2), 100; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020100
Received: 21 December 2018 / Revised: 30 January 2019 / Accepted: 31 January 2019 / Published: 7 February 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Jewish Experience in America)
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Abstract

The article examines Allen Ginsberg’s cultural and spiritual journeys, and traces the poet’s paths as foreshadowing those of many American Jews of the last generation. Ginsberg was a unique individual, whose choices were very different other men of his era. However, it was larger developments in American society that allowed him to take steps that were virtually unthinkable during his parents’ generation and were novel and daring in his time as well. In his childhood and adolescence, Ginsberg grew up in a Jewish communist home, which combined socialist outlooks with mild Jewish traditionalism. The poet’s move from communism and his search for spirituality started already at Columbia University of the 1940s, and continued throughout his life. Identifying with many of his parents’ values and aspirations, Ginsberg wished to transcend beyond his parents’ Jewish orbit and actively sought to create an inclusive, tolerant, and permissive society where persons such as himself could live and create at ease. He chose elements from the Christian, Jewish, Native-American, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions, weaving them together into an ever-growing cultural and spiritual quilt. The poet never restricted his choices and freedoms to one all-encompassing system of faith or authority. In Ginsberg’s understanding, Buddhism was a universal, non-theistic religion that meshed well with an individualist outlook, and offered personal solace and mindfulness. He and other Jews, who followed his example, have seen no contradiction between practicing Buddhism and Jewish identity and have not sensed any guilt. Their Buddhism has been Western, American, and individualistic in its goals, meshing with other interests and affiliations. In that, Ginsberg served as a model and forerunner to a new kind of Jew, who takes pride in his heritage, but wished to live his life socially, culturally and spiritually in an open and inclusive environment, exploring and enriching herself beyond the Jewish fold. It has become an almost routine Jewish choice, reflecting the values, and aspirations of many in the Jewish community, including those who chose religious venues within the declared framework of the Jewish community. View Full-Text
Keywords: Allen Ginsberg; America; Judaism; American Judaism; beat generation; communism; Buddhism; spirituality; spiritual seekers; poetry; Howl; Kaddish Allen Ginsberg; America; Judaism; American Judaism; beat generation; communism; Buddhism; spirituality; spiritual seekers; poetry; Howl; Kaddish
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Ariel, Y. From a Jewish Communist to a Jewish Buddhist: Allen Ginsberg as a Forerunner of a New American Jew. Religions 2019, 10, 100.

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