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Elderly Jewish woman speaks of her developing faith, 1977

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Level: High School and above

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More of this TYPE: Speeches

More of this TIME PERIOD: 1950-2000

More on these TOPICS: Jewish Values & Practices


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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 center’s 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.

Myerhoff’s research included testimony from the center’s residents. She obtained some of her “data” from a “Living History Class” that was open to center residents. The observations of the class members confirmed Myerhoff’s notion that having an audience was important to these elders, whom society now demeaned. In this excerpt, Rachel, a woman who attended the classes, discusses her path to religious observance and distinguishes between the way men and women learn and practice Judaism.

For more on the subjects of this study, and the life of Barbara Myerhoff, go to JWA’s Women of Valor exhibit.

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1. What task did Rachel dislike? Why?

2. How did Rachel’s grandmother help her see this chore as part of a larger issue?

3. What was Rachel’s new attitude?

4. What is ‘domestic religion’?

5. According to Rachel, how is women’s Judaism different from men’s?

6. Do boys and girls still learn their religion differently, as they did in Rachel’s time?

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Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Speeches - Elderly Jewish woman speaks of her developing faith." <>.