Three Jewish Journeys Through an Anthropologist's Lens: From Morocco to the Negev, Zion to the Big Apple, the Closet to the Bimah

Three Jewish Journeys Through an Anthropologist's Lens: From Morocco to the Negev, Zion to the Big Apple, the Closet to the Bimah


Moshe Shokeid

Series: Judaism and Jewish Life
ISBN: 9781934843369 (hardcover) 
Pages: 400 pp.
Publication Date: September 2009

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This book provides an overview of the ethnographic works carried out by a leading Israeli anthropologist over the course of his career. It presents Moshe Shokeid’s explorations, discoveries, and feelings about the vicissitudes of social life, which he closely observed in three major arenas of contemporary Jewish life: Moroccan Jews who immigrated from the Atlas Mountains to become farmers in the semi-arid Negev fields; Israeli-born citizens who left their homes to start a new life in America; and, finally, American gay Jews who chose to preserve their cultural heritage and remain involved in synagogue life as part of the mosaic of New York Jews. The panoramic view of Shokeid’s ethnographic journeys ends with a discussion of his methods of research and his personal experiences as a participant observer among his fellow Jews in their unique paths to promote their social and spiritual aspirations.

Moshe Shokeid (PhD University of Manchester) is a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Tel-Aviv University. His published books include Children of Circumstances: Israeli Emigrants in New York; A Gay Synagogue in New York; and An Israeli’s Voyage: Tel-Aviv, New York and Between (Hebrew).

The editorial decision to compile all these ethnographic essays into three ‘journeys’ was a well-taken one. . . . In the end, the book Three Jewish Journeys is one intellectual journey very worth taking.
— Yarden Enav, Ariel University, in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
The volume’s title—Three Jewish journeys—highlights the dynamic nature of Shokeid’s research trajectory. . . . Especially from the perspective of identity politics, the name that Shokeid adopted following his pioneer fieldwork points to a sense of commitment and empathy that hindsight critics have entirely missed.
— Yorum Bilu, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in Shofar
Shokeid’s steadfast ability, documented in the book at length, to go against accepted wisdom (be it about Judaism, immigrants, emigrants, homosexuals, or even anthropologists like himself) by exposing the actual beliefs and practices of real people is a quality for which he must be celebrated. His talent for countering stereotypes and prevailing theories of even his own discipline is derived not just from his disposition as a healthy contrarian (which he might be) but from the methods he employs, namely, ethnographic fieldwork and immersion in the lives of those he studies. This emphasis on the centrality of participant-observation to the anthropological endeavour is a final, and perhaps invaluable, part of the collection. . . . . In his clear and simply written analyses of three diverse modern Jewish experiences, Shokeid records the variety of Jewish lives, feelings and practices in wonderful detail for his audiences. This alone recommends the book to its readers, especially those who imagine the Jewish world to be neatly classified into competing groups. Shokeid paints a picture of poor and wealthy, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Israelis and ‘yordim’ and gay and straight, but moreover, we see how these categories are largely insufficient in their ability to provide a rich description of actually existing Jews and their changing lives over the past 50 years. Unlike most of the early ethnography, which tends to portray subjects as outside of time, Shokeid gives ample evidence (with little nostalgia) that the people he depicts are alive, changing and mortal. However popular it might be to call one’s research ‘ethnographic’ these days, Jewish Studies has only recently come to fully integrate anthropological studies into its canon. For those who study modern Jewish life, Shokeid’s candid portrayals of his methodological successes and frustrations will provide a clearer picture of what the ethnographic project is really about.
— Marcy Brink-Danan, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies