The book under analysis is an anthropological research Number Our Days written by Barbara Myerhoff. Since 1978 when the book was written the author remains one of the best public writers in the sphere of ethnography and anthropology. The book is devoted to the problem Jewish society and their ethnical background (Cole 1). The focus of the book is the Jewish community, which the author studies through the stories. The problem of Jewish immigrants is touched as well. The author studies the damaged remnants of Eastern European Jewish community who had to settle in California. The book is focused on a living rudiment of the vanished. Most of these Jews immigrated to California in the beginning of the 20th century (Cole 1). The book begins with the description of the life of Basha, a Jewish old woman who has to strive for living in the Southern California. The beginning of the book also describes the life Basha had before the immigration and before she was imposed to leave her native city (Myerhoff 1).
The book is not a simple chronological discussion of the events connected to Jewish community, it is a collection to the stories about people who had to survive the “outbreaks of anti-Semitism”, “reactionary regime of Czar Alexander II” (Myerhoff 3), and the emigration “to seek freedom and opportunity in the New World” (Myerhoff 3). The main idea of the book report is to discuss the main points of the book, to explain the role of culture in social development and understand how culture makes ties inside the community together, to see how cultural practices affect the people themselves, and how the background of the ethnical community affect their behavior and attitude to the surrounding world and events.
Studying Jewish immigrants, Myerhoff devoted much of her life to studying different communities, people, their behavior and thinking (Cole 4). The book Number Our Days is a challenge for the author herself and for people who took part in this research, no matter whether they were included in the story or not. The author spent much time on inside the Jewish community talking to people. Myerhoff did not only collect the stories and list them in the book, she managed to become a part of those stories, to integrate into them and analyze them having involved the reader not into the fiction, but onto the real life.
A study of this book reveals the effect of a dominant American culture on Jewish immigrants; it describes how Jewish cultural background dictated the life principles and how they interacted with the citizens of the community. Myerhoff was a Jew herself. It was prompted by the rising militancy and ethnic pride of Jewish community, who living in a strange environment managed to remain independent and self-defined (Myerhoff 257). The book is unique as it pays adequate attention in an American urbane setting to American Jews and the elderly. Becoming older, women were more and more concerned. Compared to women, men were more weary and worn out. However, Myerhoff writes, “compared to the women, Center men were less connected and less needed by each other, by the women and children” (Myerhoff 262).
When the issue of culture is raised, most people think about customs and traditions, the way people wear clothes, the food they eat, beliefs they have and the rituals they support, their behavior, and language. Culture encompasses people exhibiting varying mannerisms. Myerhoff delves into the Jewish values and culture (Shubowitz para. 9). She looks at Jewish immigrants as at people with unique personality and character. Myerhoff examines the disparity between the old generation vis-à-vis the new generation with the intent of demonstrating that indeed, culture is passed form old generations to new generations, which makes keeps cultures alive (Myerhoff 225). Essentially, culture is a bond that keeps people who belong to a certain community or region as portrayed by Myerhoff in the Number Our Days (Cole 11). Therefore, people who follow similar values, rituals and customs fall in a single culture that unites them in terms of the festivals that they celebrate, kind of clothes they wear, food and cultural values.
Oftentimes, people perceive culture as an incorporated system, which controls a community. People who come from a certain culture exhibit distinctive behaviors and standards. Cultural values constitute people’s philosophies and principles. Therefore, culture affects people’s social lives. Like the Jews in Myerhoff’s book, people tend to display their cultural traditions and values in foreign countries. The Jewish community maintained their unique customs and rituals after they migrated to the USA (Myerhoff 97).
This book sets a major “methodological and epistemological trends, which have become social cultural anthropological standards” (Shubowitz para. 1). Such methods include “social activism”, “storytelling”, and “reflexivity” (Shubowitz para. 1). Working with elderly people in Aliyah Center, California, the author included a lot of stories while working on the book Number Our Days (Myerhoff 3). She learnt that the elderly relied upon stories when their bodies did fail them. Indeed, storytelling created a completely different world that helped elderly to have their visibility as well as feel their presence (Myerhoff 38). Reading this book, a clear impression is created that Myerhoff relied upon ‘native model’ in her attempt to recover the customs of the people in the community. Myerhoff studied the Jews, her personal identity group. In the book, she explains why she initially thought of studying the elderly Chicanos in Los Angeles by changed direction soon after realizing it was better to study the Jews (Shubowitz para. 10).
Myerhoff inspired the Jews to utilize anthropological methods in studying Judaism. On the other hand, she urged anthropologists to perceive Jews like any other legitimate ethnographic subject (Shubowitz para. 10). In this book, the author states that the elderly practice rituals with imagination and the intent of ensuring continuity as well as in asserting their visibility and voices as earlier mentioned (Shubowitz para. 11).
Myerhoff chose a Shmuel, a person who tells much. For her, he possessed insightful self-reflection coupled with intelligence.
Notably, the author celebrated all the uneducated females for skilled survival and life. Throughout the work, Myerhoff maintained that men and women had their personal cultures that were born from their respective gendered social responsibilities (Shubowitz para. 13). The people she studied were prone to misunderstanding and mistreatment. In the book, Myerhoff examines the elders’ invisibility, isolation and poverty leading to societal negligent (Myerhoff 7). However, the author herself fails to subscribe to the feminine culture described in her work. Instead, Myerhoff identifies easily with the highly educated men within the study group who she considers her initial source of information (Shubowitz para. 13).
In an attempt to construct solid arguments concerning the gross neglect of elders by the general society, Myerrhoff omitted the external relationship with them in the course of her work. She failed to explore the relationship between elders and their children or even their friends and relatives. Furthermore, she failed to examine whether the elders themselves were responsible. The author’s isolation of the elders in her work had the influence of underscoring the communities’ neglect of the elderly (Shubowitz para. 15). People squeezed the aged their affluent homes, harassed refused contact, them into the streets, felt indifferent to their needs, the author brought out their impalpability in sharp relief. Myerhoff gained the trust of elders by “companionship” and “gifts” (Shubowitz para.15). The book Number Our Days is an examination of invented and traditional rituals. Myerhoff argued about the “innovations”, “continuity” and “resilience” (Shubowitz para. 11) of the elderly Jewish community. Women who devoted their lives to caretaking and nurturing accept aging. Moreover, they were more resourceful especially in finding methods to continue nurturing other people through their mutual support as well as social activism (Myerhoff 107). Women maintained more integrity in comparison to men.
The book is a succinct analysis of those who survived the Holocaust through emigration as well as those who survived the depredation of time as well as those left by progeny. It is an important collection of interviews, anecdotes, life stories, poems and essays. In her time, Myerhoff discovered a lot from them as well as learned from their journeys. The elderly were extraordinary people who managed to sustain their cultural values and their heritage amidst loneliness and poverty (Frank 209). She explored how women began practicing Judaism, which was a patriarchal faith. Shmuel, an agnostic, liberal and educated Jewish old man, influenced her work because he was her principal informant and mentor. She devoted a whole chapter in Number Our Days for him (Cole 12). Myerhoff managed to study Eastern European Jewish community after surpassing the trust threshold. This enabled her to grasp the attention of the elderly Jewish community. She writes, “The one who believes in God tells Him the story. The one who does not must tell it to progeny, to humankind, and to oneself” (Myerhoff 262).
In conclusion, this book reveals that for an anthropologist to study a people and its culture, it is imperative to familiarize himself or herself with their culture. Culture ties a community together. In the book Number Our Days, Myerhoff succeeds in showing the elderly Jewish community managed to stay together in spite of the fact that they were immigrants (Cole 1). Indeed, cultural practices affect people as demonstrated in the book report. The history of the Jewish community especially that which pertains to the Holocaust coupled with social norms directly affected how the Jewish people interacted with other people. The book report has served to analyze the Myerhoff’s ethnography interpretatively. Cultural competence coupled with cultural sensitivity enabled Myerhoff to understand the Jewish community in terms of their cultural behaviors. Moreover, the anthropological study not only helped her understand the elderly people within the immigrant Jewish but also her personal background.