Thanks again for everyone’s active participation this past Tuesday’s are we discussed our ethnographic experiences at a variety of Synagogues across Berkeley, California. I’ve tried to pull out some common threads and synthesis a sort of “meta-ethnographic” account of our collective field experience.

  • We were struck by particular atmospheres and behaviors of “welcoming” at the various locations. These forms of “welcoming” (or non-welcoming in some cases) included the ways we were greeted, assistance during prayer services (calling out page numbers and guide to the prayer book), discourse about the service, invitations to eat with the congregation, invitation to take part in rituals including the shaking of the lulav and etrog (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Species), and other non-verbal behaviors that were taken as “friendly.”
  • Indeed, our presence was (and will always be) noticed.
  • Some of us discussed a sense of feeling like strangers in a place that usually feels familiar and the way that this strangeness affected our behavior and thoughts.
  • Many noticed the way that language affected our ability to take part and participate. Whether texts were written in Hebrew, English, or Aramaic and whether or not Semitic scripts were transliterated into Roman characters had much to do with how much we could comprehend and join in.
  • Being in a new cultural, religious, and social environment made many of us hyper aware of our own proxemics (how we hold our bodies and how close we might sit or stand in relation to other people) and behavior. Some became self-conscious of “play acting” along with the group and learning through imitation. Is “faking it till you make it” what ethnographic fieldwork is all about?
  • The architecture and layout of the sanctuary space had much to do with gendered experience of the services. For instance, in synagogues with a marked divide between women and men, female students found it difficult to observe what the men might be doing. On the other hand, women seemed more likely to be able to find culture-bearing guides who could describe the proceedings. What can we know as women or men that others may not have access to?
  • Some ritual spaces were more conducive to conversation, welcoming, and participation. At the same synagogue, experiences in sanctuaries, lobbies, and sukkot differed.

What have I missed? Feel free to comment below!

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