- Three Jewish Journeys Through an Anthropologist’s Lens
Few anthropologists can compete with Moshe Shokeid’s array of fieldworks. He started his anthropological career in the 1960s as a doctoral student at the University of Manchester, studying a Jewish community from the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco which was moved in its entirety to a moshav [End Page 167] (semi-cooperative village) in southern Israel. In the 1970s, he studied the tiny Arab community in Jaffa, the Palestinian town that was annexed to Tel-Aviv. In the coming decades Shokeid found new research settings across the ocean: throughout the 1980s he worked with Israeli immigrants in New York City, documenting their attempts to cope with their peripherality and stigmatic identity (as yordim, “deserters” of the Zionist idea); and in the 1990s he shifted his gaze to Jewish homosexuals in New York City who sought to articulate their religious identity and spiritual wishes through a synagogue of their own. The chapters in this book, referring to the three Jewish communities studied by Shokeid, are mostly based on papers which have been published before in various scholarly arenas. Their alignment here provides a panoramic view of the work of one of Israel’s prominent anthropologists; and the diachronic framework accentuated by the author’s retrospective look highlights the transformations undergone both by Israeli society and American Jewish communities as well as the sea changes that affected anthropology as a discipline and a profession in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century.
The volume’s title—“three Jewish journeys”—highlights the dynamic nature of Shokeid’s research trajectory, even though the gays’ voyage is more metaphoric than geographic: a journey of empowerment out of the closet to the synagogue’s bimah. The first two journeys embody the Zionist vision and its disruption: aliyah (ascent) vs. yeridah (descent), the gathering of exiles in the Jewish state vs. the establishment of an Israeli Diaspora in New York. The author has chosen this course of ebb and flow deliberately, viewing himself “as the narrator of a ‘true story’ deeply interwoven in the historical events initiated by the emergence of modern of modern Zionism” (pp. 341–42). The three journeys are inextricably interwoven in Shokeid’s own life course, also viewed by him as a journey, as indicated by the title of his autobiographical book in Hebrew, “An Israeli’s Voyage” (Masa Israeli, 2002).
The voyages of the three Jewish communities are filtered through the anthropologist’s journey to his research settings; and the issues of his place in the field, his positioning vis-à-vis his subjects, recurs in each chapter. In retrospect, it is surprising to find how explicitly and lucidly were Shokeid’s subjective experiences and doubts given vent even in the earlier texts, long before reflexive and experimental ethnographies became a trendy genre. Indeed, the voyage metaphor is particularly apt for the professional career of an anthropologist who has occasionally changed his research setting while constantly broadening his theoretical horizons and updating his conceptual tool kit. It is telling that the first chapter in the book, which sums up Shokeid’s professional biography, was titled “the anthropologist’s work between moving [End Page 168] genres.” Shokeid started as a sociologist, but gradually became disillusioned with sociology’s grand generalizations, which could not depict the complexities of the moshavim’s social reality. The move to anthropology—to be exact, to the “Manchester School” version of British social anthropology, inspired by Max Gluckman and based on extended case studies—came as a reaction to this predicament. Still, the fact that all the members of the moshav he studied under Gluckman came from a single community in the High Atlas Mountains has made Shokeid sensitive to the historical context more than most of his contemporaries in British social anthropology. Shokeid has reconstructed the immigrants’ life in Morocco, in a Berber-populated milieu (Chapter 2), and accorded it a key role in their differential adjustment to the new life reality in Israel. The importance of...