Class Field Trips | Resources and Guidelines for Fieldwork in Berkeley Synagogues

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”), 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 Hebrew 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 fell on Wednesday, October 8, and shemini ‘atzeret falls on Wednesday, October 15.

This presents us with the chance to make 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 Monday (October 13). If the trips present a challenge of any sort, promptly inform me by email (ASAP).

All the best,

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!).



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

1. Consult the list of Jewish congregations in Berkeley
The list is available online at this link. It includes addresses, contact information, and website links (this information is also available via the links posted in your Field Trip Registration Form). Note that they 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. 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
a) 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 shared Google Spreadsheet linked here.
b) No more than ten students can visit a synagogue at the same time (to limit your impact on the congregations you will be visiting).
c) You must use your login to bDrive to access the registration spreadsheet (more information here).
d) 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)
a) Read the congregations’ websites (links provided online, AND in the shared spreadsheet), and document yourself on the background and history of each of the two congregations you are planning to visit.
b) Plan your trip (all congregations are located within walking distance, and near public transportation), to make sure you maximize the time at your disposal.
c) 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. Be as respectful as you can of your (unfamiliar?) surroundings.
a) 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)
b) Silence and put away your phones
c) Stand when people stand, sit when they sit
d) Ask for page in prayer book (don’t be shy about asking for assistance!).
e) Introduce yourself if anyone asks you why you are there. There is a long-standing history of visiting synagogues on the part of “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.
f) 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
g) 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:
a) Architectural space: what does it look like, how is space distributed and occupied, etc.
b) Population: number of people attending, age, gender, dress code(s).
c) Use of space gender and age.
d) Languages (of the prayer books, of people conducting the prayers, etc.).
e) Sounds and music: any particular sounds? recognizable melodies? identifiable musical style or styles?
Also, refer to the four parameters listed in the Listening Assignment Guide for Week 4 (soundscape; performance style, language, and context), as well as to the articulation of the synagogue’s “cast of characters” in this week’s assigned reading (excerpted from S. Heilman’s Synagogue Life).
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 instructors’ participation
Both instructors (Francesco Spagnolo & Yair Harel) will be also visiting Berkeley synagogues at this time. But we will not register online, and we will only see those of you who are registered for the same field trips on such occasions. We plan to share our observations with the class as well.