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.
Myerhoffs research included testimony from the centers 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 Myerhoffs 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 JWAs Women of Valor exhibit.
1. What task did Rachel dislike? Why?
2. How did Rachels grandmother help her see this chore as part of a larger issue?
3. What was Rachels new attitude?
4. What is domestic religion?
5. According to Rachel, how is womens Judaism different from mens?
6. Do boys and girls still learn their religion differently, as they did in Rachels time?
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