Nicely written article by an old acquaintance https://www.theatlantic.com/books/archive/2023/07/the-jewish-catalog-50th-anniversary/674846/
As a med student in the mid-1970s, I would take a clinical text to the Hillel library, then for breaks, browse the shelves. The Jewish Catalog was a new book, all three editions completed by my graduation. It made Judaism different, mostly better, but as the article suggests, shechting the Sacred Cows has its downsides too. I think it made us less dependent on our institutions, less obedient to people of title, and more insistent that there is a personal Judaism that can only thrive when we see it as relating to us. It really began the Jewish experience as something of an a la carte menu, but also had a lot of very talented people pondering “what would happen if we did this instead.”
In the fifty years since the first edition, women are a more visible presence, the number of kosher certified products and the spectrum of people purchasing them has expanded, parents who would not have considered day school now commit large sums to it. More people hold their own seders and light Shabbat candles. And at the same interval sanctuary attendance has waned, interest in flagship seminaries has faltered, in other ways legacy institutions are more dependent on smaller numbers of larger donors. I don’t think the Jewish Catalog series caused personalized Judaism as much as the possibilities the three books exposed made our legacy and umbrella institutions more accountable while sending the message that new startups going in novel directions could establish their own stable niches.