Searching For (and Finding) Jewish Nightlife

A set of suggested discussion topics for a class debriefing session, following two field trips in Berkeley during the Sukkot Festival.

  1. Setting
  • Where (location, real estate, interiors)
  • How (to get there, to get inside)
  • Who (genders, ages, attires)
  • Languages (of prayer books, spoken, sung)
  • Atmosphere & relationship with locals (welcoming, unwelcoming, indifferent…)
  1. Music & Sound
  • Voices: gender, style
  • Instrumentation (yes, not, if yes: what kind/s?)
  • Melodies
  • Chants (and Modes)
  • Rhythm (clear beat; flowing rhythm)
  • Texts
  1. Body language(s)
  • Individual and group behavior
  • Dress codes and body language
  • Ritual body language (prayer leader/s vs. congregations)
  1. Food(and Drinking)
  1. Broader topics/questions
  • The “I” in the fieldwork (individual perspectives, emotions, etc.)
  • The “We” in the fieldwork (group visits)
  • Comparative approaches to fieldwork (visiting more than one site)
  • A sense of otherness
  • How it felt to be there with other students
  • The original assignment: nightlife
  • Holiday (festival of Sukkot/Simchat Torah vs. a “ regular” Shabbat evening)
  • Any other topics/questions/issues?
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More on Synagogue Life (and a 360-degree panoramic view)

Samuel Heilman based his study on Synagogue Life on a participant-observer approach that combines “the ethnographic approach, which in its description embodies explanation, with the sociological one, which tends toward analytic generalization.” His research was based on a year-long fieldwork process, during which he assiduously frequented a “modern-Orthodox” synagogue in Queens, NY (which in the book he calls “Kehillat Kodesh,” or Holy Community, an alias designed to preserve the anonymity of the congregation and its members), describing what he experienced there according to a specific point of view.

Heilman considers synagogue life as “the interaction generated within and by the members of [a] synagogue.” (In the book, he refers to the synagogue with a Yiddish term, shul, that is popular among Ashkenazi Jews in the United States). Synagogues offer a specific “setting” for the interaction among individuals who, in the context of daily worship, study, and assembly, fulfill definite symbolic roles, acting within a space of “institutional sanctity.”

The symbolic roles are outlined by Heilman as those of a predefined “cast of characters.” The theatrical and performative connotations of this approach are obvious and inspiring in many ways. The characters that act on the stage of synagogue life include:

According to Heilman’s study, the characters that act on the stage of synagogue life include:

1. males and females
2. the gabbai (a dispenser of kibbudim, or ritual honors)
3. the synagogue’s lay leadership (the “President”)
4. the Chazan (cantor)
5. the “quasi-Chazan” (a figure that stands in a dynamic relationship with the cantor)
7. chiyuv and yartsayt (relating to those whose presence at services is mandated by prescribed ritual obligations, i.e., reciting a memorial prayer for deceased family members)
8. rabbinic authority [note: not necessarily a Rabbi]
9. strangers and guests
10. mendicants, beggars, shnorrers and meshulachim
11. children

The “cast of characters” moves in the architectural space of the synagogue, which is its “stage.” The website, synagogues360, provides access to synagogues across the world through 360 panoramic photographs. The closest one to Berkeley found on the site is Temple Sinai in Oakland.

Resources and Guidelines for Fieldwork in Berkeley Synagogues (2017 Edition)

Dear Class,

As we have been discussing since the beginning of the Semester (and as indicated in our Class Syllabus), this Fall we are taking advantage of the fact that our class time coincides with a major Jewish Festival, Sukkot (Hebrew for “booths” or “tabernacles;” the link will take you to the “Sukkot” entry in EJ, assigned this week), to plan two field trips to local (Berkeley) synagogues in order to explore Jewish nightlife and to learn about fieldwork.

The festival of Sukkot lasts seven days, followed, on the eight day, by shemini ‘atzeret (Hebrew for “eighth [day] of closing [assembly]) and Simchat Torah (Hebrew for “rejoicing of the Torah,” when the yearly cycle of reading the Hebrew Bible in the synagogue begins anew). Our field trips are scheduled so that we can witness the end of the festival, and hopefully the dancing and singing on the night of Simchat Torah, as well as a more “normative” Friday Evening (Sabbath Eve) Service.

As a reminder, the Jewish calendar is “lunisolar,”that is, based on the lunar cycle, but also integrated with the solar cycle. Therefore, Jewish holidays always fall during the same season each year, but not always on the same date of the Gregorian calendar. This year, the first day of Sukkot falls on Wednesday, October 5, and shemini ‘atzeret falls on Wednesday, October 12 (both days begin the night before, as we’ve learned in class…).

This presents us with the chance to conduc two field trips to local (Berkeley) synagogues and witness Jewish nightlife “in action”! Since at this point of the semester we have been learning about the different Jewish musical traditions in the diaspora, and about how sounds can define the identity of a group, everyone in the class is required to visit two different synagogues, and reflect on the similarities and the differences presented by each one. This will be a unique chance to experience and reflect upon the cultures we are studying in class by observing some of its manifestations in situ, and to further our understanding of fieldwork dynamics.

Below I am detailing how the field trips can take place.

Please read the whole message, and register for the field trips (a registration form has already been shared with you). If the instructions are not clear, ask questions during lecture time on Tuesday (October 3). If the trips present a challenge of any sort, promptly inform me by email (ASAP).

All the best,
Francesco

PS: Try clicking on the links above. If you are off Campus and you can read the corresponding entries in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, it means you’ve successfully configured your access to UCB’s electronic resources… Otherwise, read here. (If you are reading this post and do not have UC Berkeley or other academic credentials, the links may not work at all… Sorry about that!).

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ASSIGNMENT / FIELD TRIPS

Visit two (2) synagogues during the two weeks of the Sukkot Festival

1. Consult the list of Jewish congregations in Berkeley
Make sure you know where you are going ahead of time!
A list of Berkeley congregations is available online at this link. It includes addresses, contact information, and website links as of a couple of years ago (this information is also available via the links posted in the Field Trip Registration Form I shared with you weeks ago; see bCourses announcements).
Note that these congregations are not listed in order of importance (but the first two are very close to Campus), and that not all of them will be holding services during the upcoming holiday.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Each congregation operates according to different (and often site-specific) guidelines. It is important to notice these differences, and to plan your fieldwork accordingly.
2. Choose two (2) different synagogues
Individual visits should be long enough for each student to be able to observe nightlife as it is happening (plan to be on site for at least one hour).
Please remember that you must visit two (2) different synagogues on two separate field trips.
3. Register for each field trip
  • Add your name (First, Last) and the date/time of each of your planned visits to the corresponding synagogue on the Field Trip Registration Form.
    A limited number of students can visit a synagogue at the same time (to limit your impact on the congregations you will be visiting).
  • You must use your @berkeley.edu login to bDrive to access the registration spreadsheet (more information here).
  • Registration closes at the times indicated on the Field Trip Registration Form. Make sure you name is on the spreadsheet for both field trips by then! 
4. Plan your visits (field trips)
  • Read the congregations’ websites (links provided in the shared spreadsheet), and document yourself on the background and history of each of the two congregations you are planning to visit (How? Read the /about section of the websites to begin with!).
  • Plan your trip (all congregations are located within walking distance, and near public transportation), to make sure you maximize the time at your disposal.
  • In general, make sure you have as much information with you BEFORE your trip, so that DURING the trip you can focus on researching your surroundings.
5. During your visits: seven general rules of conduct
Remember that you will be visiting ritual spaces, and that you may not be aware of all the rules of conduct that govern them. You won’t be the only one in that situation (we have learned that Jewish ritual rules can be fairly complex), but… Be as respectful as you can of your (unfamiliar?) surroundings!
  • Dress appropriately (use your judgment), and be quiet (i.e., not loud: this will also enhance your chances of observing as much as possible of your surroundings)
  • Silence and put away your phone
  • Stand when people stand, sit when they sit
  • Find a Prayer Book (see where they are located, usually outside the “sanctuary,” and don’t be shy in picking one up), and remember to return it to its place before leaving
  • Ask for page numbers in the Prayer Book (Don’t be shy about asking for assistance!).
  • Introduce yourself if anyone asks you why you are there. As we discussed some weeks ago, there is a long-standing history of synagogue visits done by “strangers” (Jewish visitors from out of town, Jewish members of other congregations, and non-Jewish visitors), so your presence will not be out of the ordinary. But it will definitely be noticed.
  • Do not take notes, do not take photographs, do not make audio recordings, do not use any electronic devices while you are inside a synagogue: many congregations (but not all) ban the use of electricity and writing during certain holidays and the Sabbath
  • Do your best to minimize your luggage (backpacks, etc.), and try to not have any with you if possible (unless, of course, you absolutely need your backpack with you).
6. During your visits: observe and listen to your surroundings (field work)
Be as aware of your surroundings as you can. Look for the following:
  • Architectural space: what does it look like, how is space distributed and occupied, etc.
  • Population: number of people attending, age, gender, dress code(s).
  • Use of space gender and age.
  • Languages (of the prayer books, of people conducting the prayers, etc.).
  • Sounds and music: any particular sounds? recognizable melodies? identifiable musical style or styles?
  • Also, refer to the four parameters listed in the Listening Guide we referred to for the past three weeks (soundscape; performance stylelanguage; and context), to the visual charts discussed in class, and to the articulation of the synagogue’s “cast of characters” in this week’s assigned reading (excerpted from S. Heilman’s Synagogue Life, also assigned this week).
7. After your visits: Take Notes (field notes)
As soon as you are able to, write down your observations on the points listed above (No. 6), or on additional details and impressions you may have gathered from your visit.
Try to be as systematic as you can in collecting your notes, so that you can compare them from one field trip to the next.
8. After your visits: Class Work
We will be comparing notes and impressions in class, and you will be asked to incorporate your observations in class discussions.
9. About the instructor’s participation
Your instructor (that’s me!) will be also visiting Berkeley synagogues at this time. But I will not register online, and will only see those of you who are registered for the same field trips on such occasions. I plan to share my observations with the class as well.

 

Worlds of Jewish Music: Listening Guide

Last week, we discussed objects of material culture, and we even learned how to handle them in a museum context, thanks to Julie Franklin, MA, Registrar of The Magnes Collection at UC Berkeley.

I took some video (including slow-mo) of students learning how pick up a (perhaps rare and precious) book…

…and how to carry it across a room:

This week and the next (Weeks 4 & 5 in our Syllabus), we will be working on musical (and sound) objects, and listen to two audio anthologies representing Jewish musical traditions in the global diaspora.

Please note that all tracks are available on UC Berkeley’s bCourses website. Some are also available online at the link below. (My recommendation is to use bCourses).

1) Musical Traditions in Israel: Treasures of the National Sound Archives (available on bCourses and online)

This is a compilation of ethnomusicological field recordings highlighting the collection of the National Sound Archives (NSA), an institution established in 1964 at the National Library of Israel (then known as the Jewish National and University Library; read more here).

The NSA house hundreds of thousands of recorded items, documenting a host of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other musical traditions represented in modern Israel, as well as Jewish musical traditions across the global diaspora.

This compilation (originally issued on audio cassette, then on CD, and now also available online) constitutes a veritable “audio tour” of both Jewish and Israeli sounds, presenting an intensely diverse traditional musical landscape through the performances of original culture bearers (also referred to as informants in the context of “ethnomusicology,” i.e., the study of music performance in its cultural and traditional context).

Most of the recordings (not all) featured in the compilation were collected in Israel. Some were collected by Israeli researchers who conducted their fieldwork abroad.

The CD booklet (available on bCourses) gives specific details about the following traits of each individual recording, so please focus on them:

Title or incipit (beginning words of a song) of the piece recorded
Typology and occasion of the performance (i.e., vocal, instrumental, for the liturgy, for weddings, etc.)
Informants’ names and other biographical information
• Name of the researcher/s who conducted the fieldwork, date and place of recording
• NSA Call number

a) Tracks 4, 5 and 6 highlight the role of music in the transmission of traditional lore in Judaism (the confluence of texts and sounds, or the sounding of texts): from father to son, from teacher to pupils, as well as in individual study.

b) Tracks 2, 3, 8, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21 and 22 offer the diverse sounds of liturgical music from the synagogue traditions of Europe, Asia and Africa. They represent Ashkenazi (originally from central and eastern Europe), and Sephardic (originally from the Iberian peninsula) musical traditions, along with those of the Jews from the Islamic world (at times called mizrachi, or “oriental” Jews, in Israeli Hebrew).

c) Tracks 1, 7 and 23 are Jewish wedding tunes (from Morocco, Yemen and Eastern Europe), which represent a variety of “para-liturgical” traditions (the term is described in this week’s reading assignment)

d) The remaining tracks (9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 19) represent some of the most important non-Jewish musical traditions that are rooted in Israel (Bedouin, Greek-Orthodox, Palestinian-Arab, and Samaritan).

While listening to these tracks (choose at least one from groups a, b, and c), you may want to focus on different aspects:

1. Soundscape: what kind of musical world (European, Asian, African, etc.) and environment (indoor, outdoor, communal, or private spaces, for example) does the music represent?
2. Performance style: solo or group singing, instrumental accompaniment, etc.
3. Language: Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, a Jewish language (Judeo-Spanish, Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, etc.), other languages, or combinations thereof (one song may contain more than one language, of course).
4. Context: What occasion is the music destined to? Who is/was the audience? Why was it recorded? (Try to answer such questions).

It may well be that the only common characteristic to all these musical examples is that they are all transmitted by oral tradition.

In terms of sound, they indeed are extremely diverse…

Who would want to define this mosaic of diverse sounds as “Jewish Music”?

(Ideas about these issues are found in this week’s readings: Grove Dictionary of Music Online, “Jewish Music”).

 

2) Titgadal wetitqadash betokh Yerushalaim | Jerusalem in Hebrew Prayer and Song (available on bCourses)

As we will discuss in class, liturgical sounds introduce us into one of the most intimate aspects of Jewish culture, in which text and music, material and spiritual cultures, tradition and innovation, Jewish and non-Jewish dimensions, seamlessly coexist.

Jewish liturgy takes place every day, and thus expresses the experience of everyday life, just like the many objects of material culture that we have examined in the weeks past.

And at the same time, Jewish liturgy also voices the most complex aspects of religious life, thus addressing an intricate texture of literary traditions (first and foremost, the Hebrew Bible), of spiritual yearning, and of cultural creativity and aesthetic expressions.

Finally, liturgy is a performance, in which music is central. In its performative aspects, liturgy and its music reflect a variety of social dynamics, ranging from inter-generational conflicts to gender relations, to politics and, as we will see in focusing on nocturnal rituals, intercultural exchange.

This compilation, which is based on a concert program presented in Berlin, Germany, in 1995, focuses entirely on liturgical and para-liturgical songs (refer to Grove, “Jewish Music” III:1 to fully assess the importance of these terms) of various Jewish musical traditions as they are presented by traditional culture bearers (rather than re-created by artists). Make sure to also refer to the CD notes to learn about each track and the ideas that informed the concert program (curated by Edwin Seroussi, and available via bCourses).

While listening, focus on two aspects:

  • Diversity of sound: once again, very diverse worlds of sounds are brought together as part of one culture (aka, “Jewish (musical) culture);
  • Unity of (theological) message: each selection expresses the two ­thousand year longing for Jerusalem and the return to the land of Israel, as represented in Jewish liturgical texts.

Would you say that these two aspects were actually reconciled in the concert program documented in the compilation? Probably not in terms of sounds: the traditions represented in the concert are indeed very different from one another.

And yet, perhaps,  such a  relation can be only understood within the comprehensive notion of “Jewish music” summarized in the assigned sections of the Grove article on this topic: thus, as a host of diverse cultures with distinctively similar  practices (in textual, material social, and political terms) across the span of a diasporic landscape.

In listening to this compilation, please make sure to focus on the following tracks:

1. Shofar blowing: this is the sound of the only Biblical musical instrument that remains in Jewish liturgy

5. Lekha dodi: a liturgical poem for the Sabbath liturgy, text by Kabbalist scholar Sh. Alkabetz (melody from the Turkish tradition)

12. Arim al shefayim koli: a Moroccan kinah (Hebrew for dirge), part of the vast repertoire of liturgical poems sung on the 9th of Av (the liturgical commemoration of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, first by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE, and later by the Romans in the 1st century CE)

13. Yerushalaim ir mehulalah – Hohil yom yom eshtahe: Moroccan song medley praising Jerusalem and the city of Tiberias

15. Mimekomkha malkenu tofi’a: Ashkenazi prayer for the return of God’s rule over Zion and Jerusalem (a line from this prayer gives  the Hebrew  title  to  the CD:  titgadal wetitqadash bethokh yerushalayim, or “May You be exalted and sanctified within Jerusalem”)

19.  Im nin‘alu:  a Hebrew poem by Sh.  Shabazi from  the Yemenite  tradition of  sacred poetry  (Diwan),  which was popularized as a “dance hit” in the 1980s by Yemenite Israeli singer Ofra Haza as follows (you may want to listen to her other subsequent versions of this song, easily found on YouTube):