Primary Sources & Lesson Plans
In the 1970s, cultural anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff studied Jewish senior citizens at the Israel Levin Senior Center in Venice, California. In her groundbreaking research, she explored the complex interplay of cultural change and continuity for these fragile yet resilient people. Myerhoff used the lives of the centers residents to illustrate the centrality of dignity and respect to the individual, regardless of age or ethnicity. Her work reinforced contemporary scholarly ideas of culture as a flexible resource that people use to provide comfort and enable adaptation.
In addition to her published work, Myerhoff presented her findings in the documentary, Number Our Days, which won an Academy Award. The film served as an important reminder of the value of those whom society too often forgets, the old and infirm. In this article, Herbert Gold, a writer of contemporary fiction, recounts the story of an unproductive meeting between Myerhoff and a Hollywood producer who hoped to find some commercial value in her work.
For more on this film and the life of Barbara Myerhoff, go to JWAs Women of Valor exhibit.
1. What is the tone of Golds comments?
2. What sparks the producers interest in Myerhoffs research?
3. What reservations does the producer have? Why do you think he is worried?
4. How does Myerhoffs response reflect the difference between her goals and those of the producer?
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