Tag Archives: synagogues

Field Trip No. 3: Simchat Torah in Berkeley, California

This coming Tuesday we will be meeting at Congregation Beth Israel, for the third (and last) field trip of the semester and attend part of the services for Simchat Torah (aka the “Rejoicing of the Torah”).

Congregation Beth Israel is located at 1630 Bancroft Way in Berkeley.

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Website: http://www.cbiberkeley.org/

Directions are available here: http://cbiberkeley.org/directions/

As it is the case for the two other congregations we visited previously, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life holds a collection of Congregation Beth Israel records (description available here).

Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel is a Modern-Orthodox congregation. Its original membership was drawn from the First Hebrew Congregation of Berkeley, a congregation that had been meeting at various locations since 1909. In 1924, under the name of the Berkeley Hebrew Center, the congregation erected a building to house “all the Jewish activities.” These activities included the California Alliance of Jewish Women and several Jewish student groups, such as the Menorah Society of the University of California. By the late 1950s, the synagogue served largely social functions. In 1959-1960, young observant Jews re-established Sabbath services and a Hebrew school. In 1961, the congregation selected its first full-time rabbi and changed the name of the synagogue to Beth Israel.

The collection contains correspondence; minutes (1909-1930); bulletins; membership lists; financial records; programs; photographs; newspaper clippings, a handwritten minute book (1940-1943); and a history of the early years of the First Hebrew Congregation and the Berkeley Hebrew Center, which was excerpted from San Francisco’s Emanu-El newspaper.

I plan to be on site at 9:15 (which is when services start), and expect all students to be no late than 9:45. Action will start just then. As we discussed in regards to our previous field trips, you are free to leave according to your class schedule.

The schedule of services is available here: http://cbiberkeley.org/community/dafhashavuah/

At this point, I believe that you should know how to collect information about the Simchat Torah festival (we also encountered this festival, as well as Sukkot, early in the semester, via prints by B. Picart)… right?

Be ready to see a lot of action. The liturgy for this Festival includes the “hakafot” —  dance processionals with the Torah scrolls…

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Field Trip No. 2: Sukkot in Berkeley, California

This coming Tuesday we will be meeting at Congregation Netivot Shalom for the second field trip of the semester and attend part of the services for the 2nd Day of Sukkot (aka the Festival of Tabernacles).

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Congregation Netivot Shalom is located at 1316 University Avenue in Berkeley.

Website: http://www.netivotshalom.org/

Directions are available here: http://netivottest.org/directions_map

If you are interested in the history of this congregation, do keep in mind that The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life holds a collection of Congregation Netivot Shalom records (description available here).

Congregation Netivot Shalom was founded in 1989 in Berkeley, California as an egalitarian Conservative congregation. Its founding Rabbi was Stuart Kelman.

The collection consists of Congregation Netivot Shalom’s archive from 1989 to 2007. Included are files on congregational buildings, education programs, events, membership, and committees, as well as a full run of the Congregation’s newsletter.

I plan to be on site at 9:30 (which is when services start), and expect all students to arrive no late than 9:45.

At this point, I believe that you should know how to collect information about the Festival of Sukkot (look it up on either Idelsohn’s Jewish Liturgy p. 188ff. and especially p. 201; or on the Encyclopaedia Judaica, to which you have online access).

Earlier in the Semester, we have examined 18th-century depictions of the Festival by B. Picart.

Be ready for some action. The liturgy for this Festival includes the singing of the Hallel and the waving of the “four species” (aka, the “lulav”). More on the etrog (a citrus fruit counted as one of the “four species”) later on…

Synagogue Field Trip #1: The High Holy Days and Popular Culture

This week, we conducted our first field trip of the Semester. The falling of the second day of Rosh Hashanah at the time of class granted us the opportunity of being the participant observers of synagogue life.

Some students travelled home for the Jewish High Holy Days. Others went on a class-organized field trip to Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, where services were led by rabbis Yoel Kahn and Ruben Zellman. (Future class field trips will allow us to explore local Conservative and Modern-Orthodox synagogues as well, and there is absolutely no hierarchy in how the field trips were scheduled for the Semester, of course).

As your instructor, I particularly enjoyed “being” in the synagogue setting with some of the students in Performing Texts and trying to “take everything in” through students’ eyes and ears.

We will compare notes, and experiences, in class.

While we will focus on the theological aspects of the High Holy Days, as specific occasions of ritual performance, only in the coming weeks, it is probably quite appropriate to introduce them at this time. There is no better way to do it than through the words and music of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet, singer and songwriter. His famous song, Who By Fire (released in 1974, in the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony, is directly based upon the High Holy Days liturgy (we heard the piyyut, Unetaneh toqef, sung during services yesterday morning). So, here you have it:

(One can easily find Cohen’s lyrics online, so no links are provided here. Unetaneh tokef is described in your textbook, and in the Encyclopaedia Judaica: links provided in the class Syllabus).

Field Trip No. 1: The Jewish New Year in Berkeley

In this class, we have been studying the fieldwork of the past. It is now time to try this ourselves.

As described in the Syllabus and discussed at class meetings, this semester we will be complementing our study with three field trips to local Jewish congregations. They are all located in Berkeley, in the vicinity of the UC Berkeley Campus.

On Tuesday, September 18, we are meeting at Congregation Beth El for our first field trip of the semester and attend part of the services for the 2nd Day of Rosh Hashanah (New Year).

Congregation Beth El

Congregation Beth El is located at 1301 Oxford Street in Berkeley. Its premises occupy the block between Oxford and Spruce.

Website: http://www.bethelberkeley.org/

Google Maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/Z89Nc

If you are interested in the history of this congregation, do keep in mind that The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life holds a collection of Congregation Beth El records (a description is available here).

Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El was organized by thirty-five families in 1944. It was founded as a liberal congregation that was guided by reverence for tradition. It moved to a location on Arch and Vine Streets in 1950. In 1951, it joined the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Its school building was erected in 1958. By 1986, it numbered over 325 families.

The collection contains the minutes of the congregation (1972-1984); by-laws; reports; materials relating to its religious school; flyers and brochures; and lists of the congregation’s officers and members; a report from the Congregation’s Committee on Affiliation (1972), which examined the possibilities of an alternative or supplemental affiliation of the synagogue; a dedication booklet (1981); a description of its stained glass windows; a copy of resolutions considered by the congregation in 1981 that reflect a variety of socio-political concerns; and congregational newsletters.

You already know what to look for:

  • Prayer books (where they are located, in what languages they are written, etc.)
  • Attire (how are people dressed? differences between men and women?)
  • Behavior: standing, sitting, singing, clapping, etc.
  • Music: is there a cantor? a rabbi? “who says what”?
  • Clergy/Congregants interactions
  • Language(s) of prayer

Picart’s Scenes of Synagogue Life

In a way not dissimilar from today’s YouTube dissemination of moving images, the printing press allowed for a far-reaching distribution of information over several centuries.

A book that changed the perception of synagogue life was Bernard & Picart’s Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World (1723-1743), which included a host of engravings by Bernard Picart.

Engraving [75.22]: Bernard Picart, La Dédicace de la synagogue des Juifs Portugais à Amsterdam,  (Holland, ca. 1730)

We looked at some of Picart’s engravings in class today, comparing them with contemporary depictions of synagogue life provided by digitally distributed videos.

This very important book (and many of its editions in various languages) has been made digitally available by the UCLA Library in a joint project with the Getty Research InstituteUtrecht University, and the Huntington Library.

You can read about it here, and view Picart’s illustrations here. The introduction to the project states:

Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde(1723-1743) is a nine-volume folio work published by Jean Frederic Bernard, a French language bookseller in Amsterdam, and lavishly illustrated by Bernard Picart, one of the most famous engravers of the time. As their title suggests, they sought to capture the ritual and ceremonial life of all the known religions of the world. Because Bernard chose to remain anonymous as author, the work has long been catalogued under the name of its engraver, Picart. “Picart,” as many readers called it, helped create the study of comparative religion and had a long-lasting influence on the representations of the world’s religions in the West.

You can also check out Samantha Baskind’s excellent article on “Bernard Picart’s Etchings of Amsterdam’s Jews” (in Jewish Social Studies 13/2, 2007).

The mandatory YouTube links

Since every university course must begin with a YouTube video, I decided to post two of them. Here you have two fine examples of how synagogue life has been portrayed in recent American/Global popular culture.

First, the amazing Bar Mizvah scene from A Serious Man (2009) by Joen and Ethan Cohen.

Then the much less irreverent Drake (in spite of the gross language).

In both cases, you are invited to listen to the sounds, the music, and look out for the architectural features of the synagogal space, the ritual objects involved, and, especially, for body language.

Even more importantly, it is worthwhile noting that even though these are just “reconstructions” of Jewish liturgical (and para-liturgical) settings, they are not much more distant from the “real thing” than many of the archival sources we have in our hands when we study music in the context of synagogue life. Given the traditional Jewish prohibition against writing and using electrically-operated equipment on the Sabbath and other major liturgical occasions, much of the documentation in our possession is derivative (recorded in a studio, or in a recreated setting, albeit from traditional culture bearers). Unless, of course, instead of relying on YouTube videos, or on materials traditionally kept in libraries and archives (sound recordings, musical transcriptions, and books), we go and see things first hand.

In the course of this seminar, we will not only talk about, but actually get a taste of fieldwork. I promise.